Today we welcome René Bue from Hedberg Public Library in Janesville, Wisconsin. René has a lot of experience with community engagement and looking at the library as a space and resource that extends well beyond its physical walls. Enjoy!
Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.
My name is René Bue. I am the Programming Outreach Coordinator at Hedberg Public Library (HPL) in Janesville, Wisconsin. I have been at HPL for 12 years and was originally hired as the part-time Bilingual Outreach Coordinator. That position was originally part of an LSTA grant. After that, the HPL board decided to make it a permanent position in 2007. After a short time, my position morphed to include other cultures. After the retirement of my direct supervisor, my current position was created and offered to me.
Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement or outreach work.
Community engagement and outreach is a very important aspect of the work I do. The main purpose or goal is to reach people in our community who are not already library users. I want to make sure that our community knows all of the services and programs that we offer. I love getting to show the community that HPL is not only a place to check out books and other materials but also a place where you can: learn to use your electronic devices, get help finding information, attend cultural programs, use databases to learn a second language or some other skill, and many other things. People are surprised to learn all of the possibilities that exist at libraries. I enjoy working with other organizations to partner in offering some of our programs. This all is possible through very active community engagement and outreach…some of which is also done via our bookmobile.
How does that philosophy play out in your day-to-day job?
In my day to day job, I am responsible for planning and implementing our overall outreach. That means that I must stay informed about the community events where we can have an informational booth or the bookmobile. I also work with local organizations to offer them space in the library to have “office hours” so that they can more easily connect with their clients and potential clients.
I work with all the departments in the library in order to offer the outreach. Youth Services plan the outreach visits that they do which include school visits and much more. Our Teen Librarian does bi-weekly visits to the Rock County Youth Services Center (juvenile detention) and provides books to the youth there. We now also have our adult librarians doing embedded librarianship within specific areas including business, health, history, literature/literacy, non-profits and more.
I also supervise the Bookmobile Assistant. Together we coordinate her stops that begin in April and end in October. This is a great way to connect with many of the underserved populations and get books into the hands of people who have not or will not walk into the library for a variety of reasons.
All of this means that I spend a lot of time out of the library and connecting with people and organizations who can help us connect to the members of our community who do not already come to the library or use our services. I love this aspect of my job as I get to see a lot of smiling faces when I help people realize how we can help them.
How has the transition from an internal focus to an external focus unfolded at your library?
One of the most recent and important changes for us has been the addition of a bookmobile. This will be our 4th year taking the library out to the community. The number of people that we have talked to and helped via the bookmobile is amazing. There are many people who do not think the library belongs to them. Still others haven’t been in the library for a long time because they owed money for fines. Some people think that libraries are only places to check out books. We help to change those perceptions. As a result of the work we have done with the bookmobile, we are getting people inside the library for programs, services, and so much more.
The embedded librarianship is also offering us the opportunity to connect with businesses and organizations in the community to demonstrate to them all of the things that we can do to help them. We already have had a positive response with a lot of excitement about how this work will change the perceived value of libraries.
What’s a challenge or speed bump that you’ve encountered in this work?
One of the biggest challenges is having enough staff to cover all of the events and projects that we want to be a part of. However, one of the ways we have dealt with this is by offering HPL staff to go outside of their normal job duties and join me or other staff at our booth or on the bookmobile. This has been fairly popular and a great way for library staff to see the library in a different way…the same as what we hope for the community.
What makes library staff suited to this kind of work?
Library staff are already working with the public. Our staff enjoys answering questions and helping people who come into the library to find whatever it is they need. Now they are doing the same thing…just outside the library.
Also, because of all of the community partnering we have already done, we have a great network in place that keeps us on the minds of organizations that offer events where we can have a table or the bookmobile. Many times, I am invited to have a table at new events because people are so accustomed to seeing us at events in the community.
Who else is doing interesting work in this area (does not necessarily need to be in the library field)?
There are many community organizations that have realized that it is not enough to sit inside their buildings and wait for the public to come to them. They also are realizing that all of the marketing in the world may not help to get people into their buildings either. People now want to see organizations like the historical society, the Parks and Rec, local non-profits, school districts and more at events. It allows them the opportunity to get information, ask questions and do some “one stop shopping” at events that are often free.