11 October 2021

Back in June, it was with cautious optimism that I emailed our staff to say “we’re getting the band back together!” It was time to dust off the prize wheel, order tchotchkes, air out the tent, and get back out into the community for some personal interaction with residents. We received a number of invitations to fests and gatherings, and I said yes to as many as I thought we could handle. We had great fun, meaningful conversations, and new experiences. Here are some bullet points to consider as your outreach schedule comes back to life:

  • Be flexible. At one event this summer, “electricity available” meant that to power our laptops and hot spot, we had to snake a giant extension cord through other booths and across a walkway. We decided to avoid that potential for disaster, and used our laptop batteries instead (always arrive fully charged!). You may arrive to set up your tent or table in its pre-assigned spot, only to find out someone read the map wrong and have already claimed it. Just roll with it, and take their spot instead.
  • Which leads me to another tip…arrive early. You will get your (or the best) spot. It will be easier to maneuver, unload and set up. And it will leave you more time to make last minute changes based on those “be flexible” changes.
  • Pick your prizes wisely. We gave away branded beach balls at the movie in the park night where families and kids could bonk them around while waiting for the show to start, not at the bike race where they could end up in the road, causing a massive pile up. We gave away 400 branded fans in one day at an event on a sunny hot day.
  • Follow booth vendor etiquette. If you want to be invited back year after year, turn in your paperwork on time, read and follow set up guidelines, and NEVER leave early.
  • Take a moment to network with other vendors. Chances are you have something in common with your booth/table neighbors. Bring a stack of business cards and walk the event yourself. Introduce yourself, ask the organization about their mission, listen for ways you might partner up to serve your community. Does the day care center across the way want to come to the library for a field trip? Would the food pantry next to you be willing to drop a library flier into their food kits?
  • Have a mission. Sometimes this will be easy to determine based on the event. If it’s a back-to-school event, push library cards, homework help, and research databases. Big events are a great opportunity to showcase a new service or ask for feedback with a quick survey.
  • Don’t let a line forming intimidate you. When we bring our prize wheel on the road, a line of children usually forms as if we’re giving away Garrett’s popcorn. This is perfect! It gives you plenty of time to chat up the kids and their parents to find out if/how they use the library and point out more things they might like based on what they told you.
  • Wear comfortable shoes! This goes for your whole wardrobe, really. I once had to scale a light post to plug in our extension cord, so…

Our guest blogger today is Kirstin Finneran. Kirstin is the Public Relations & Outreach Manager at the Fox River Valley Public Library District. Kirstin is also a member of the My Library Is.. Advisory Team.