Outside the Box

Recently, I had the honor of speaking at the American Library Association’s annual conference, held at McCormick Place in Chicago, with my colleagues Ben Bahl, David Kelsey, and Sarah Yale. Our presentation “Outreach: Outside the Box” dealt with how librarians bring services into communities – outside of the library building “the box”. Each of us shared a unique story that represents thousands of library stories. If you don’t work in libraries, I hope you get some insight as to what we do in libraries, especially in Outreach Services for our communities.

Librarians have rewarding jobs. We find out what people need and see what we can do to provide it. This was the most rewarding part of being a director and it’s the rewarding, hands-on factor of being an Outreach Services Manager. I’ve had the privilege of a great career in which I have worn many hats.

Martin, from Farber, and I had a philosophical discussion about the history and future of outreach services. There is a trend we are watching, not only in libraries but with major corporations. In order to find out what people need and learn how to serve those needs – you have to be with the people, in the community. Outreach Services is a growing field, especially in libraries. In the past 5 years, I have observed outreach departments form and outreach departments blend within the other departments. It would be great to have a study on which is the most efficient and makes the most impact. I’m excited and proud to be part of this expansion of services and how people see libraries.

I felt a responsibility, in the speech I gave, to represent all of the hard working and dedicated outreach people worldwide. Though I feel knowledge is our common base, there is a difference of opinion on a library’s purpose. If you look at history, libraries have started when there is a need to fill in the community. This is where outreach services shine the most.

Let me set the scene.

ALA Chicago 2017 Presentation roomIt was over a mile from my hotel room to the presentation room, so I left my hotel room very early on that Saturday. Picture hundreds of tired librarians, coffee in hand, walking through McCormick Place to their morning presentation selections. Once the presentation was ready to go, materials were displayed, and my colleagues and I checked in with one another, David and I decided to greet people at the door.

David and I were wide awake using our theater voices to let people know that an outreach presentation was in our room. We invited them in  – either they were already looking for us or maybe they were too tired to go on. One of the librarians pointed inside the room and commented that she was there to see “Outreach: Outside the Box” inside THE box. Ha! What an ironic realization. The presentation room was exactly like a large box – square, empty, kind of plain. I decided, on the spot, that I would open with remarks to this realization.

I then realized something was in question by the podium. So I went back in with a half-hour until our presentation and realized there were over 100 people in the room and it was very quiet. As I walked up the center of the room, I commented “This is too quite to be the Outreach room.” By the time I returned to greeting people at the door, I was happy to hear people waking up and talking. Now it felt like I was in a room with the passionate library outreach people that I was used to.

We had given a similar presentation at a conference in May and had time to tweak and perfect it. I was so proud of my colleagues and our presentation because we each represented our libraries and our profession well. Below is a summary of my speech as I had used an outline and embraced the positive energy from the crowd of over 200 librarians.


ALA Chicago 2017 Outside Box

“Welcome to Outreach: Outside the Box. And as one person pointed out, welcome to our box” I said, pointing around the room. Luckily, everyone was up enough by then to chuckle along and get the joke. Thanks to that person who was wide awake enough with that gem in hand!

“My name is Tina Williams and I am currently the Outreach Services Manager at the White Oak Library District. To my left are my colleagues: Ben Bahl is the Outreach Services Manager for the Library on the Go services at the Gail Borden Public Library, David Kelsey is the Outreach Supervising Librarian at the St. Charles Public Library District and will talk about dementia and senior programming, and Sarah Yale is the Neighborhood Services Librarian for the Oak Park Public Library and will talk to us about the library’s book bike services.

Outreach is anything outside the bricks & mortar…anything outside the box.

Just as we each work in different boxes (big, small…new, classic), the communities we serve are equally unique. Our mission is to reach the people:  to the home bound, to those unable to travel to our buildings due to transportation restrictions or distance barriers, or maybe we are trying to touch those who don’t truly know the value of their library.

Who are Outreach people?
We are passionate about serving the needs of our community.
We are dynamic,  flexible, and hard-working.
We are loyal, empathetic, & fun.
We a re readers advisors, marketing, reference, circulation, & maintenance.
We also form partnerships and create marketing opportunities.
We are the voice & face of the library – the ambassadors.

Throughout the speech, I asked the audience:

  • Who works in a dedicated outreach department? Who performs outreach services as part of your job in another department?
  • How do we deliver outreach services? bookmobile? van? car? bike? walk?
  • What do we provide? Bookmobile Stops. Lobby Stops. Deposit Collections. Home Deliveries. Community Expos. Pop Up Libraries. Pop Up Programming. Technology & eBook Instruction. Marketing & Partnership Opportunities.
  • Have you heard of ODLOS and ABOS? Do you belong? Join us!






National Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services – ABOS.
This year’s conference is October 25-27, 2017 in Pittsburgh, PA.
ABOS got its start with bookmobile groups. It’s a fun, educational conference with great networking opportunities. I discovered outreach services people’s heart and their commitment through this great organization.


We provided handouts on what we do, including the Illinois RAILS Serving Patrons with Dementia group, information about Farber, the one bookmobile vendor  at ALA, and Demco’s BrainHQ product. BrainHQ has proven scientific results and libraries can offer BrainHQ as programming or individual usage with a patron library card.

Thank you for the opportunity to let me share a small part of what we do and who we are in outreach services!

~I’m here to help



American Library Association’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. http://www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/diversity

Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services. http://abos-outreach.com/


Bookmobile Vendors:

Farber. https://www.farberspecialty.com/new-vehicles/bookmobiles

LDV USA. http://www.ldvusa.com/vehicles/specialty-vehicles/bookmobiles/

Matthews Specialty Vehicles. http://www.msvehicles.com/

OBS, Inc. http://www.obsinc.net/

Summit Bodyworks. https://www.transwest.com/summit-bodyworks


Book Bikes:

Haley Tricycles. http://www.haleytrikes.com/bookbike.html

Burgeon Group. http://www.burgeongroup.com/index.html


Shelving, Accessories, Etc.:

Acore Shelving. http://acoreshelving.com/

SVS: Specialty Vehicle Service, Michael Swendrowski. http://www.vehiclesuccess.com/home.html