The Fine Line between Outreach & Stalking

Last week, I posted a general wrap up from ACRL-NEC’s annual conference where my fabulous colleague Rachel Beckwith and I did a presentation on outreach and embedded librarianship. Over the next few weeks, I am planning to expand on the six points we discussed in longer form posts. Today I tackle the first of these: the fine line between outreach and stalking.

My experience working in library land has been varied. I now work in a small, experimental liberal arts college; I have previously worked in a large, state university, and a large, prestigious Ivy League research university. In all cases, outreach played an important role in each of my positions and experiences. However, methods of conducting outreach were sometimes more or less effective depending upon where I worked. A few universal truths about outreach best practices have emerged, though:

To start, I don’t like to think about ‘conducting outreach’ or ‘doing outreach,’ but rather living outreach throughout my whole librarianship practice. I honestly can’t imagine carving out time to ‘do outreach.’ I live outreach and integrate it into the landscape of my days at Hampshire, from active participation in faculty meetings to random conversation with students at the circulation desk.

Courtesy of the Hampshire College Archives

I believe the expectation that faculty and students will ‘find the librarian in his or her offices’ is out moded, and doesn’t speak to the active, engaged presence that I believe 21st century librarians need to have in the lives of students and faculty on college campuses. So, I make myself visible to my constituents by appearing in places my faculty and students don’t expect me to be, but appreciate when I am. Of course I do all this without being creepy or stalking. That’s proactive outreach. Examples:

  • Riding The Five College Bus System
  • Wandering around Franklin Patterson Hall where nearly all of my faculty have offices
  • Frequenting Woodstar Cafe in Northampton where most of my faculty hang out
  • Taking a walk around campus between classes when students are on the move. Hello chance encounters!

As important as what to do are the things not to do. A friendly list of Don’ts:

  • Linger outside someone’s office without an appointment.
  • Hang out in social spaces for students at night
  • Relentlessly email people
  • Listen in on other people’s conversations and then awkwardly insert yourself.

Balancing the fine line between effective outreach and creepy stalking is difficult, but let common sense and social intelligence be your guide.  Chances are better than not that your students and faculty will appreciate you having a more natural and consistent presence in their lives. So…get some coffee. Take a walk.  Attend a lecture. You never know when the perfect moment for outreach will arise.