Balancing Outreach with Library Time

getting out there without getting in over your head

I am not claiming to have cracked the code on this, but undoubtedly one of the primary challenges of community librarianship is balancing community time and library time.  It's important to be out there hitting the pavement, meeting with folks, spreading the word about library services, and finding out what else the library could do to serve the community.  Hey, that's what the whole community librarian gig is all about, right?

So you network, you listen, you let 'em know about some key library services sure to delight and amaze, and then... on to the next community event!

But wait, what about the business cards now burning a hole in your pocket?  Woah, look at that notepad in your hand.  This stuff needs attention!  You were noting action items, information to share with staff, something the library director will want to know, at least one question a specific patron needs answered, some feedback on a service that might be improved, and a couple of new program ideas.  Some of those items you could knock out in the library van between events, since all you need is some email and web access easily achieved with tablet and cell phone.  But there is no way you are going to get it all done in the parking lot.

For one thing, you are the Community Librarian (or whatever title you may hold), not the Lone Ranger of library services.  Most of the items on the list require coordination with library colleagues, which takes time, and while some of it may be taken care of with an email, the juiciest ideas and more perplexing conundrums will require some brainstorming and face time.  Whether in the library van or at your desk, as soon as you start working all the items and ideas on that notepad, and following up with the people who handed you their business cards, you are doing work just as critical to your mission as attending the meeting itself.  Follow up is key, but you have other people to meet now, which will inevitably lead to more items on that notepad. 

Welcome to the life of a community librarian.  I have left some community events with ideas for programs that took months to execute, and numerous conversations with colleagues and community partners along the way.  I suppose over time I could track the metrics and calculate how much follow up is typically generated by one hour of community time, but I think it might freak me out and send me hiding under my desk.  That's the one place I don't want to be.

So I keep striking the balance the best I can, getting out there, listening, sharing, and working my follow up lists.  How do you balance outreach and follow through?