At the moment, I am not an outreach librarian. I’m not much of a public services librarian either, having been mostly in technical services for the past three years. But I still know a good outreach idea when I see one.
The University of Colorado at Boulder has created an outreach program called Culture Bridge. This tripart outreach program focuses on “connecting international and domestic students.” This program includes a talent show highlighting cultural diversity, a “speed friending” event (think speed dating but with less romance and with more information literacy), and a photo contest.
I’m too much of an introvert with stage fright to be much of a fan of talent shows, but the other two programs have my attention.
The photo contest would leverage the library’s existing social media accounts, primarily the library’s Instagram feed. And it would get our students to think about how other cultures, nations, countries, etc. think about information – how do they store it? how do they disseminate it? do they have libraries and librarians? is there information digital or print or verbal? Even I don’t get the time to think enough about how different cultures handle information – and I’m a librarian. So, having students thinking about this stuff is cool. Plus, we get to see pictures of cool places.
The speed friending event is what especially caught my eye.
I think convincing students to participate might be a challenge. The librarians at the University of Colorado at Boulder noted that food was an incentive. I might suggest doing this speed friending event during Orientation, because the first-years and transfer students would want to make friends.
But once we overcome the issue of getting students to participate in the program, I think this program would work well. From my experiences during my undergraduate education, I learned that my personal and intellectual life was enriched by knowing and being friends with people from a different background than me. I also found second languages to be a powerful tool to make connections across cultures. In graduate school, I found that having a school with a large international population suddenly opens up new avenues.
A five minute chat would not be comparable to the sitting in cafes with a Chinese grad student and comparing how our respective countries and cultures viewed the world. (“Why do you [Westerners] think dragons are evil?” is a question I have yet to be able to satisfactorily answer.) A five minute chat would not necessarily mean an evening in the dining hall discussing how people view their economic statuses – and how that affected their outlooks. But it might be a start.
If the library can start intercultural conversations, I say we should try.