Quantity vs Quality of Outreach: Assessing Event Outcomes

Outreach at CapU library is a relatively new endeavor, and through trying different events and locations, I have learned that there are generally two very different ways to look at the success of outreach events.

The first outcome shows high numbers of interactions in a short amount of time. The depth of these interactions, however, is fairly shallow. An example of when this outcome is considered successful is during high volume events at the library, such as student orientation. Many of our orientation outreach events allow for only a few minutes to talk to a large group of students. The library is expecting a large volume of quick interactions which introduce ourselves to the students, and make our presence known. In this case, a high number of quick interactions it definitely a success.

The downfall to this type interaction is that library staff aren’t making the meaningful connections that could later help students with the research and study skills they might be seeking. A large amount of students may come to the event, but may never remember that it was connected to the library. An example of this would be a Science Literacy Week event the library hosted at the Student Union Lounge. There was a large number of students that stopped by our booth, but many of them didn’t make a connection between the event and the library, and were more interested in our swag than learning anything about science and the library. On paper, the high number of interactions looked good, however this is not an event we will be repeating, because it did not make the type of impact we were hoping for.

The second outcome we see is for events which yield a lower number of interactions, but the quality of the interaction is much higher. At CapU Library, the Outreach committee hosted a number of “Pop-Up Library” events at the new residence building. While the number of interactions was low (4-8 students a night), the staff had very thorough conversations with students, and provided research help and essay writing skills that will hopefully carry through for the rest of that student’s assignments. The event was only staffed by one person, and having thorough research sessions meant that there was only time for a few students per night–but this quality of outreach is what we were hoping for, and while the numbers may be low, we considered this event a success.

The difficulty with this type of interaction is that these low numbers do not look good on paper, and the staff’s time might not be well spent if they are only connecting with a few students. An example of this also happened at the new residence building when the library participated in Move-In Day. I ran a booth all day to introduce the library to the new students and their families as they moved in to residence. The aim was to have a large number of short interactions, however I ended up with just a few more in-depth conversations. It was great to connect with a couple students, but they hadn’t started classes yet, and there wasn’t much I could help them with other than telling them about the services they might utilize in the future. While I had a few good conversations with parents, and one or two students, I felt like little was gained, and we did not meet our expectations of the event.

In my experience with outreach, it comes down to that great debate of quantity vs quality, and the realization that the parameters of success can be unique to each event. In the coming year, our Outreach committee is planning some end of term events to coincide with finals. Our aim is to have contact with as many students as possible, and to provide them with de-stress activities to help them during that busy, stressful time. While we plan that this event will not foster many in-depth research interactions, our measure for success at these events will be high numbers of short interactions, to simply remind students to take a break, and be aware that the library is available for help if they need it. In contrast, we are also planning an author reading event in which our measure of success will be much lower numbers of interactions, but a longer, more connected interaction with our attendees. It is important to establish the identity of outreach campaigns, so you can effectively measure their success.

Chelsea Merkl is the Library Technician on the Outreach Committee at Capilano University Library