What’s the Best Part About Working in Outreach?
Q&A with David Freas

Career Blog
David posing with students on a group visit

Published: July 7, 2023 by Hannah Nguyen

If you love interacting with people and have thought about innovative ways to make library services available to everyone, outreach librarianship might be for you! Outreach is an incredibly important aspect of libraries simply because communities need to know about services to use them. According to the American Library Association, outreach librarians are intended to serve everyone, however they are often focused on reaching people who underutilize the library, and communities who are underserved.

For the last few months, I have been interning as a Communications Assistant for the Outreach department at Cornelius Public Library in Oregon. I was able to ask David Freas, their Outreach & Publicity Librarian, all about his experience in this career. Read what he had to say: 

How did you get started in outreach?

I got my start in outreach services in 2017 when our library was moving into a new, larger building. At that time, the library had only an Adult Services Librarian and a Youth Services Librarian and our Director felt we needed to somehow expand our services to match our expanded space. Initially, I enacted the library’s existing outreach program consisting mainly of visiting ’school lunch sites’ over the summer to promote our reading program. These were not productive outreach events, so I developed other tactics for community engagement. These tactics were successful, out-of-library programs grew, and outreach became an increasingly valued part of our operation.

Cornelius Public Library Bookmobile

These were the years just prior to the pandemic. In September 2019, our Director made the prescient decision to further expand outreach operations and create a permanent librarian-level position. When the pandemic shutdown arrived, we were well-positioned to adjust and find new ways to serve our community in spite of restrictions and people’s fears. Outreach played a large role in our pandemic shutdown-era services. We created a pop-up library program to bring materials out to city parks. We created a delivery program for senior and subsidized housing facilities. We began communicating more with community partners to coordinate and share resources for students and workers suddenly working from home. These outreach successes led to more investment in outreach, like a bookmobile and support staff, and now our outreach services provide an indispensable engine driving program attendance and interaction numbers.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

My favorite aspect of my job is getting to work outside of the library in all these different places and getting to meet and work with new people every week. This lends a sense of discovery to outreach work; you go out into the community to uncover new opportunities to connect your community with your library.

Outreach team posing in front of library

I also really enjoy that kids recognize me everywhere I go around town. We aim to visit every elementary school class twice a year, so about 2000 students know my name and face and say hello to me at the store or when I’m walking the dog.

What is the most memorable program you have worked on?

My personal favorite program is doing tie-dye with kids at camps over the summer. I love making tie dye and sharing advanced techniques with which kids are generally unfamiliar. So, internally, my outreach colleague and I have a shadow initiative we call ‘Tie Dye July’ where I aim to make as many tie dyes with kids as possible over the month of July. Last year we made almost 300 shirts! These tie-dye programs are memorable because you see folks wearing their shirts all over the place.  

Do you have any advice for students or early career librarians who want to work in outreach?

Not every personality is suited to outreach. Being extroverted and comfortable around all sorts of people is essential. You have to be able to walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation about the library. These traits run against the stereotypical image of the quiet, unassuming librarian, but the library really needs sociable, gregarious advocates out in the community. 

Outreach is powerful. Though it may seem like outreach is an ancillary part of a library operation, just an in-person form of publicity, an engaged outreach program can drive a lot of interactions both outside and inside the library. If you find ways of consistently banking large numbers of interactions and leveraging those interactions to draw people back to the library building, you can significantly grow your patron base and make your outreach program indispensable to the growth of your institution.

Additional Resources:

Two More Things…

Here are a few job opportunities that might be of interest!

Also, remember that internships can be an especially valuable part of your learning experience at the iSchool while also helping you when it comes time to look for jobs. Learn more about the iSchool’s internship program here, where you can check out the INFO 294 Student Handbook as well as the Internship Sites database.


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