25 May 2016

Frustrations and solutions for library outreach

Every so often you find a surprised visitor who enters our study room and says, “Oh! You have library?” to which with a sad sigh I respond, “Yes. We have about 9”.

Specialising in art, archaeology, anthropology, numismatics, conservation and scientific research from around the world, these libraries are available to the public. To be fair, each Museum department with public research facilities require a pre-booked appointment except the Anthropology Library and Research Centre. So, why do stories of readers being told that “there are no libraries at the British Museum. All our books are at the British Library” keep cropping up? 
Working in large organisations information can often slip through the crack when staff retention is involved. Located behind the screens it is often difficult for us librarians to engage with the public. We are forever reliant on our front-end visitor services staff to help with library advocacy and reiterate our presence. So, what can be done to positively change perceptions? I have come to two conclusions, library orientation and outreach. We have recently had a website revamp and information about our libraries are much easier to find for the public. As for staff, twice a year, new staff members have the opportunity to participate in the ‘BM Induction’ consisting of coordinated tours and discussions in a one day program. However, a libraries induction is not necessary included. 
I would like to see informal library orientation introduced into the induction program. It would equip new employees and especially front-end staff with essential knowledge to ease job transition, reduce uncertainty and confusion in direction and thus improve the information being communicated to the public. However, this can only make an impact if the libraries are fully integrated into the induction. This requires considerable resources to be available such as, staffing numbers, staff time, information media and organisation, which can all be costly. Given the packed schedule of the current induction program, time for physical library tours will need to be taken into consideration before being added. It is probably more realistic for a librarian or library administrator to give a short presentation concentrating outreach on answering the following:
  • What library services are available?
  • How can knowledge of the library resources benefit new employees and help perform their duties?
  • Where are the libraries located?
  • Who should they contact for more information?  
This could then be following up with an offer of optional libraries tours, which could be tailored to be job-specific. Furthermore, an electronic information leaflet would be sent to all participants in the induction highlighting core library services in research assistance, available online library services and the online catalogue. Lastly, anonymous feedback would be welcome tool to assess the success of the orientation with lessons learned being used to improve and expand the awareness of library resources.
I have put forward these suggestions to the HR and training department who coordinate the BM Induction. However, the real question is, will they be implemented by them and will all the librarians actively take part?

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