Ignite Session: Outreach, Yik Yak, and Reality TV

July 1, 2015

Yik Yak logo

In a creative outreach-focused Ignite Session at ALA Annual, speakers had five minutes to present their ideas on reaching out to your community using little or no resources. Some of the highlights follow.

Mary Abler, project manager of the Southern California Library Cooperative, says when it comes to outreach, “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Librarians need to think about outreach differently. Outreach traditionally takes money, time, materials, and permission. And even though it’s important to do, most librarians have maybe one hour a week to devote to it. So spend a little time doing what you know works. Try just talking to people in your community—literally at cocktail parties, even. Target a place where folks gather, such as farmers markets or festivals, and just start talking. Some people won’t be good at it, but some will! Think about a program or resource you offer, get out from behind the reference desk, and just talk, Abler says.

Beth Saxton is a youth services librarian who says she watches too much TV. But she knows that libraries can learn from the four key principles of the rescue-style reality shows.

  1. The right people. Hire the right people and give them consistent, procedure-based training. Empower your staff. Don’t tolerate “stupidvisors.” Remember that toxic people bring down entire organizations.
  2. The right fit. Who is your community? Note that this is not the same question as “who are your users?” Stop making excuses, and remember that not all of your branches are the same.
  3. The right product. Offer more steak and less sizzle. Develop your collection. Improve access through proper inventory, shelving, and weeding. Improve your user experience. Make sure your staff has enough product knowledge. Don’t forget the importance of marketing and merchandising. “Don’t send a librarian to do a graphic designer’s job,” Saxton says.
  4. The right environment. Make people comfortable. What does your library look like for patrons? Small things make a big impact. Get real security if you need it, not just random contractors.

Joan Petit, communications and outreach librarian at Portland State University, knows that if you’ve heard of Yik Yak, you’ve probably heard bad things. But she says Yik Yak has a place in the academic library. Yik Yak is an app that acts as an anonymous campus bulletin board. It launched in 2013 and now has 3.6 million monthly users on 1,500 college campuses. Students use it for class updates, gossip, weather, jokes, and talking about farting. “Lots of farting,” Petit says.

Because it’s anonymous, Yik Yak can get ugly, but votes and filters can control content. Five downvotes from users get something removed forever, Petit says.

Libraries can use the app to post hours, promote study breaks with cake, answer student questions, and address service issues, such as burned-out lights in bathrooms. Universities have partnered with Yik Yak to share news content.

“Don’t assume that you know what the culture of it is on your campus. I’ve seen it be incredibly sweet and funny. And you can influence its culture with up or down votes,” she says.