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They Were Already Here

November 15, 2018

At this year’s PaLA Conference, I presented a poster entitled “We Built It and They Came: Launching a Library Workshop Series with Broad Appeal.” I enjoyed talking with the public and academic librarians who stopped by to discuss their own experiences with workshops. After an hour of continuous conversation, I realized that one question had opened nearly all of those interactions:

How did you get people to come?

To launch a popular workshop series, we naturally did more than merely “build it;” indeed, much of my poster detailed the reasons we have been successful. I explained how we named (‘Savvy Scholar’), marketed (posters on campus, website banner ad, social media), and otherwise promoted (emails to all students and faculty, in-class reminders) the initiative. Yet I left Harrisburg that day feeling as though there must have been more to it. I suspect many of the librarians I spoke with felt the same way.

Like those who stopped to speak with me, I too had felt little confidence that many students would initially attend our series when we launched it in the fall of 2017. I had heard the naysayers and read the literature. When we filled 89 seats during the intensive two-day schedule that September, however, I assumed all the steps I described in my poster had surprisingly done the trick. I suppose, likewise, that those same steps came as little surprise to those who stopped to read my poster. They are, most likely, what any library would do to get such a program off the ground. Nevertheless, conference attendees who read my poster and its ostensible reasons for our attendance numbers, were still asking:

How did you get people to come?

Though it would not make for much of a poster, I recently arrived at another “answer” for why our workshop series is successful. Namely, several strong, individual relationships between librarians and students, or between librarians and faculty, formed a nucleus with great attractive powers. Our success was not due nearly as much to the broad scope of our marketing, or our attempts to offer something for everyone, but was instead built upon a handful of people who trusted and believed in one another. As I reflect on those who attended our initial workshops, I realize that we already knew a significant number of them quite well. Those who attended multiple workshops were even more likely to have spoken with us at the reference desk—whether to say hello each morning or to ask for help with challenging research questions. Despite all the worry over attracting people, we already had a guaranteed audience.

As the ‘Savvy Scholar’ series continues, I will likely continue to hear:

How did you get people to come?

Among my many answers to that question I will now begin with the following:

Most of them came because they were already here. 

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