I recently had a faculty member ask me one of the most perplexing questions I’ve ever received. This faculty needed some books, and found them not in the law library, but in the main University library. The faculty member contacted me and asked “[the catalog search system] let me request it, for pickup at the COL library. Sounds too good to be true — can I really get books that way?” It took me some time to forumlate an answer that was not condescending since to me this was akin to asking “can I really use my computer to search the internet?” Then I understood something that make just slightly embarrassed: he simply did not know a very important role and service that the library provides. As I thought more, I then was shocked to realize that when it came to understanding the specifics of the university library, I was also quite ignorant. I suddenly found myself in a glass house!
There is an easy solution to this problem, which is to simply practice some outreach. Normally, outreach is thought of as bringing in individuals, groups, or organizations from outside the “organization” to provide services to your exsiting patron groups. While that is certainly part of it in this context, it also requires simple fact finding missions about the operations of not only the university library, but other departments on campus with either existing (or potential) relationships which would benefit our patrons as well as their members, and which are not being currently being utilized. Every institution is so much larger than just the law or law library department, and too often these departments are siloed from one another. It is therefore beneficial, and very easy, to simply contact other departments to find out more about them, which by itself usually leads to added benefits to everyone.
Conversely, outreach does not mean simply reaching outside the institution, but rather reaching out to the patrons as well to make sure that they are fully aware of the services the library provides. I am very proud of our library’s outreach initiatives within the college of law, which include going into seminars to demonstrate research tools directly to students, providing tutorials on less used and less known resources, weekly slides on a single resource or service, serve as faculty liaisons, as well as any other outreach endeavors which become necessary. Since I am the “Outreach Librarian” for someone to be unaware of the most simple tool at their disposal cuts to the quick, and really has me rethinking my outreach strategy.
There are two morals to this story. The first is to never presume that a failure of knowlege is the fault of the person admitting their ignorance (I rule I follow very well with my students, but in this instance failed to do so). The second moral, and more central to this post, is that when something you perceive as obvious, is simply more obtuse to others, take a hard look at the reasons for the misunderstanding. Often times it is something that we as librarians can fix.