by Beau Steenken
Every summer, the librarians at the University of Kentucky Law Library remove ourselves from the library and rendezvous at a much more exotic location (usually a reserved room at the main library on campus, but at least we’re not trapped looking at our own meeting room’s cinder-block walls again) for our annual librarian retreat. During the retreat, we update our library’s strategic plan by removing completed actions and adding new desired results. Eventually, we noticed that we were consistently including goals like “conduct outreach with alumni” or “conduct outreach to the local bar” but were never removing completed actions in these areas. We were only achieving outreach to our immediate communities of law school faculty and current law school students (a.k.a., captive audiences).
Our relative difficulty in conducting extra-university outreach stemmed, I think, from a couple different factors. First, we had a bit of an underpants gnomes problem in the way we have drafted our desired goals. We expressed a desire to conduct outreach as phase one, figuring that the end result will be increased library usage, but we did not really specify the steps we would take beyond “conduct outreach.” In other words, we thought, “Outreach. Great!” without really deciding what we meant by “outreach.” The other factor was that most of my colleagues and I skew quite a bit towards introversion (shocking in a library, I know). Given a choice between directing our energy toward vague “outreach” or toward a competing goal, we will choose the competing goal (we tend to identify more goals than we can realistically complete in a year, so we constantly find ourselves conducting rigorous triage on the list of goals).
Happily, we recently have made progress on overcoming these two hindrances. First, we began writing our outreach goals with more specificity. For instance, instead of “conduct outreach to the state bar,” we decided to “write an article for the state bar magazine highlighting the services offered by the law library.” (Do you mean that I can conduct outreach without actually talking to anybody? Count me in!) This article will appear in the Kentucky Bench & Bar this summer. My colleagues and I also filmed a CLE video (we have a fantastic CLE office affiliated with our law school) that we billed as a “Legal Research Refresher.” One segment of the CLE video will highlight the resources and services offered at our library, and the director of our CLE office has mentioned possibly allowing us to link to excerpts via our webpage. Admittedly, this second action was a bit harder given our introverted tendencies, but because of its specifics (and the prodding of our CLE office), the project made it through triage.
We also addressed the problem of our tendency to prioritize actions other than outreach by taking advantage of a vacant library faculty line to create a new position with specialized duties focusing on outreach (each of our reference librarians has specialized duties in addition to general reference duties). We figure that if one of us has primary responsibility for outreach, it will survive her personal triage. Then she can rope the rest of us into participating as needed.
Hopefully the actions we have taken will help our new Outreach Services Librarian hit the ground running when she joins our faculty in July! With her help, perhaps we can finally achieve our goal of communicating to members of the local and state bar associations that they can visit the law library.