28 March 2016
Librarian Toolbox: Preschool Outreach
One of the biggest problems we face in the public library is how to best serve the people who never darken the door of the library. In the children's department, this usually means kids who can't come to library programs because their parents are working or don't have reliable transportation or perhaps don't know that the library has programs for their children. This is where outreach can be very useful. By doing regular outreach to various organizations, a librarian can widen their service population and ensure that more people are benefitting from library services.
If you don't already have a partnership with local daycares, preschools, youth centers, etc., this is a good place to start. Find a few organizations that might benefit from a librarian visit and give them a call to see if they are interested and if it is possible on their campus to have an outsider bring a storytime. Emphasize that your programs are free - most daycare room leaders and classroom teachers love to have a free educational and fun thing for the children to enjoy. If possible, arrange to meet multiple teachers or visit multiple classrooms on the same site on the same day. One of the centers I visit has the rooms combine during my storytimes so that twice as many kids can hear the stories.
Ask if you can bring your children's programming calendar or event flyers for distribution. In some cases, this may take advanced planning. Our school district, for example, requires all flyers to have approval first, so we have to send one copy to the district office, then wait for an okay in order to distribute them to the children. Sending flyers to the classrooms or home with the children means that kids who don't come to the library regularly will still be made aware of any special programs you have. I have had numerous families join my family storytime once they saw our calendar.
When possible, schedule a regular time to visit each location. Perhaps that daycare center would love for the second Monday of each month to be library visit day. Maybe they can let you visit the three year-old room, then the four year-olds, then the toddlers, so you'll see many, many kids in just a few hours.
Outreach is a great way to see what it's like to be a kid in a classroom or daycare center. What kinds of things are the teachers focusing on, and how can you best support them? What services can you provide that they cannot? I often bring any leftover prize books from our summer learning club and give them to the teachers to add to their classroom libraries or distribute to their students. They often ask me to do a storytime on a particular theme, and then I make sure to bring copies of my song and rhyme lyrics so the teachers can repeat them later with the children. I've also had the opportunity to sign up teachers and daycare room leaders for our teacher library card, which allows them to check out books for their classroom without fear of overdue fines.
All of these things can increase the library's usefulness to the community and build bridges between organizations. And if you haven't had the experience of entering a room, only to be inundated with preschoolers running toward you and screaming your name, then you definitely need to do outreach. It can make you feel like a rock star.