Or, what does outreach look like when you’re a small, domain-specific, community library, run by volunteers with very limited time, which has no funding, and which has recently moved locations therefore losing touch with many past patrons?
Out On The Shelves Library is a small, volunteer-run, community library with a long history dedicated to serving the LGBT2QIA+ community. The Library recently moved locations from Davie St. in Downtown Vancouver to a new location on the University of British Columbia (UBC) West Point Grey Campus. Now that the library has successfully moved and re-opened in its new space, Out On The Shelves is turning its focus towards outreach, making sure that patrons and community members know about the new location, as well as reaching out to a new potential group of users on campus. So how exactly are we doing it?
Becoming Visible Online
One of the library’s major concerns after opening in its new location was that the official website wasn’t appearing on the first page of a google search for “out on the shelves library”. In fact, it wasn’t appearing until the third page of a google search, dramatically lowering any chances of discoverability. Although outdated social media pages did appear, as well as the library’s previous connections with Qmunity, these results didn’t accurately represent the library’s current status, and the remainder of the results were completely unrelated.
Although there are still many improvements to make with regard to Out On The Shelves’ digital presence, the official website does now appear early on the first page of results using the same query, “out on the shelves library”. This was achieved by re-configuring the URL, poking around in back-end settings and linking all social media accounts to the official website both to enable patrons to keep up-to-date on Instagram and Twitter, and to increase the likelihood of crawlers indexing the website. This goal was also aided by updating the Wikipedia page, “Libraries and the LGBTQ community” which had listed Out On The Shelves as one of several queer libraries in Canada, but had failed to provide a link to the website. These changes have caused the official website appear on the first page of results on Google, along with the catalogue and active social media accounts.
Although the move has been beneficial in many ways it undoubtedly means that Out On The Shelves is less centrally located, therefore having an easily discoverable and accessible online presence is essential for maintaining connections to the wider queer community in Vancouver.
As the library began to pick itself back up, it became immediately clear that in order to reach as many people as possible, social media was a necessary tool. Before the library moved to UBC, there was an extremely limited online presence. This issue necessitated a quick reaction, since social media has become such an integral part of building communities both in person and online. The platforms chosen were Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, all selected for their popularity, high engagement, and interactive abilities.
Once the accounts were active and posting regularly, creating a consistent schedule and standards for posting surfaced as the next hurdle to cultivating the online presence Out On The Shelves aims for. At this point, written policy became imperative. While using social media casually is a no-brainer for most of today’s population, developing an online community requires more than simply posting whenever someone feels like it. Instead, the library’s new policy prescribes that an appointed volunteer at Out On The Shelves post on a set schedule with certain qualities (for example, using specific hashtags) included in each post. Social media strategy and policy became intertwined to create a coherent plan for how Out On The Shelves wants to use social media for outreach.
Over the past summer Out On The Shelves Library became a community partner with the Vancouver Pride Society. This allowed the library to attend many Pride events, where over a hundred new patrons signed up for library cards and several hundred more were able to learn about Out On The Shelves, attend a rainbow storytime, and support the library by donating–receiving one of our buttons in return. The Out On The Shelves volunteer team is now at work brainstorming book lists to pass on to the Pride Society, from spooky queer books at Halloween, to Trans Resiliency and Power, and many more to come.
Campus Collaborations and Academic Engagement
Out On The Shelves’ recent move has opened up several opportunities to engage with students, faculty, and other groups on campus. The library collaborates with the Pride UBC resource group and shares a physical space, and has integrated the group’s small collection into Out On The Shelves. This relationship is a valued connection to queer undergraduate students at UBC and events in the community; in January 2018, Out On The Shelves participated in UBC’s Pride Week to introduce the collection and sign students up for library cards. The library has also been featured in The Ubyssey and CiTR, UBC’s student newspaper and radio station. Working with these groups has enabled the UBC community to learn about the library, introducing us to new patrons and volunteers.
UBC’s iSchool is an ongoing site of productive collaboration. In 2017 and 2018, Out On The Shelves made small presentations at the orientation for incoming iSchool students. The library worked with the iSchool to design two Professional Experience projects for our volunteers, who were able to build a localized domain-specific classification system and re-conceptualize our online subject access system with the support of iSchool faculty and resources. A representative of the library shared this work with the wider academic community in a workshop presentation at the ASIS&T annual meeting this fall, and we plan to engage further with the academic conversation around queer knowledge organization in future publications. Our goal is not only to build library systems that work for Out On The Shelves, but to contribute to similar efforts in other libraries and communities.
Coming up in the next month is Out On The Shelves’ 2nd annual HoliGAY book drive. It was a very successful (and fun!) event last year, bringing in many donations of exciting books which helped the library to continue their goals of diversifying the collection. Stay tuned to Out On The Shelves’ social media to learn more and get involved!
That’s just a quick summary of many of the exciting in-progress initiatives we have going on at Out On The Shelves Library. Check us out in person or online if you’re interested in learning more!
Amber Dierking and Kate Hickey are MLIS students at UBC; Avi Grundner is a MLIS/MAS student at UBC. They are three of the four Co-coordinators at Out On The Shelves Library.