on outreach

I had a grand plan. Or so I thought.

Outreach is a big part of our strategic plan:


  • We will seek outreach opportunities.
    • We will reach 5,000 people by June 30, 2016 and then increase by 10% each year after that through June 30, 1018.
    • We will visit every school in our district by June 30, 2018.

FYI: we did not reach our goal of 5,000 people for this fiscal year, but came awfully close with 4,646.

As I looked ahead to planning for fall, I thought I had a genius idea for our early literacy outreach to be a big part of that 10% increase we were looking for. I wanted to go to every Head Start classroom and provide an early literacy activity once each semester. I figured I could repeat the same activity in each classroom which would significantly cut down on planning time and I’d capture a huge number for that 10% increase we were hoping to reach.

I knew there would be challenges. We had one full time staff member who would be out on extended medical leave. I was picking up her weekly storytime which would mean an additional prep and Tuesdays and Thursdays I would have to adjust my schedule in order to reach Tues/Thurs AM classrooms. I also am responsible for desk time so that would put a strain on the rest of our team as I tried to schedule all of those classroom visits.

But I was undeterred. I was so focused on reaching those kids who aren’t able to attend our weekly storytime for their age group. My supervisor told me she would support it however she could.

And then I had a shower moment. One of those “AHA!”moments that only seem to happen when you just wake up and you haven’t had coffee yet and hot water is pounding on your head. “Wait.a.minute. What is the ultimate goal of the early literacy programming we provide at the library? It’s caregiver engagement. It’s providing developmentally appropriate programming designed to encourage caregivers to be their child’s facilitator of learning. It’s giving research based tools and information to caregivers. I don’t need to go to every classroom. I need to get invited to caregiver nights where I can present the information to those caregivers who can’t attend our programming. I need to present the information to daycare providers and preschool teachers.”

I knew this would mean I wouldn’t be capturing the huge numbers those monthly classroom visits would provide towards that 10% increase goal we had given ourselves for this fiscal year. But I knew this idea was more aligned with who we are as an organization and what we do.

I went back to my supervisor armed with all of the reasons I thought this plan was much more appropriate given our mission and the staffing challenges we were facing. She 100% supported me.

Limited resources are a reality. Budgets and staffing are a reality. The mission statement of your organization is a reality. And while numbers are important, sometimes impact is more important. For our organization, the type of outreach I’m providing for the early literacy portion of our department-presenting at early childhood conferences in the area, being certified to teach classes towards certification hours for providers, and seeking out the opportunities to connect information with caregivers who aren’t able to attend our early literacy programming happening within the library walls-I believe that impact more than makes up for the numbers. I think of all of the babies who now have daycare providers singing “Baby Put Your Pants On” when doing diaper changes, and the toddlers who are reading and re-reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear multiple ways, and the preschoolers who are crossing their midlines.

I will absolutely still visit preschool classrooms upon request. I believe having a positive experience with a library staff member outside the library is a good thing. It really was an AHA! moment that came about at the right time so it’s not like I spent time re-evaluating my plan. But getting to the heart of why I do what I do has made an enormous difference in how I approach my job. The early literacy programs I provide within the library are better. I now feel so much more equipped to evaluate new programs and potential new partnerships. And I now do think much more critically about new initiatives or ideas. What are my outcomes? Will the impact reach further than the people in the room?



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