Identifying Underserved Groups

Keep in mind that the first stage of outcome- and outreach-based programming is a needs assessment process. We encourage librarians to look systematically at their own communities and determine which groups of children, teens, and adults have not participated in large numbers – or at all – in previous years.

If you’re not sure who to target, the Summer @ Your Library project has developed tips and guidelines to help you conduct a needs assessment and identify underserved groups.

Feel free to select a group that you already have a connection with if that group is still underserved. You might also target the same group for several summers until you consider them to no longer be underserved. Think of your outreach efforts as a way to start an ongoing and meaningful relationship with a group in the community.

Groups that have been identified as underserved by participating libraries include the following (please remember that this list is not exhaustive and that your own underserved communities may be different from those you see here):

  • Boys (underrepresented in all data about summer reading, particularly teens)
  • Children and teens from families with low socio-economic status
  • Children from a particular homeless shelter
  • Children from a specific school
  • Teen mothers and fathers
  • Children involved in a local summer day camp
  • Non-English-speaking children and teens.
  • Children of Non-English speakers
  • Homeschoolers
  • Children from a domestic violence shelter
  • Continuation schools
  • LGBT teens
  • Children with disabilities
  • Juvenile detention centers
  • Court-ordered volunteers
  • Computer users in the library (who often do not engage with the book collection)

Deciding How Many People To Reach Out To

It is important to set realistic goals, especially if you are not used to reaching out with your summer program. We are not expecting most libraries to target large numbers at the start; in some cases, it might be as small as “five teen mothers” or “ten children from the homeless shelter.” Set your results as your benchmark data and aim to increase the number of participants from your target group each year. The important thing is that a relationship is started and then maintained. You might also want to decide for yourself what constitutes a successful outreach effort: e.g. 70{8d500d450027b93333be3b285dae0cf2d2a460b569ebacd77329f3a45df205ba} of the targeted group take part in summer programming.

Guidelines for Successful Outreach

Reaching out to an underserved group with your summer program means more than simply taking out summer reading flyers and inviting the group to come to the library, or taking out summer reading logs and signing people up for the program.

The key to successful outreach is doing something relevant to make it work. Here are some suggestions of ways to help you engage your targeted group with the library:

  • To reach new populations with your summer program you may need to take the program to them, rather than requiring them to come to the library. You might develop a “summer reading in a box” complete with reading logs, incentives, and library materials, and take it to your targeted group.
  • Tailor your marketing efforts to the needs of the group you are reaching out to. You may need to make personal contacts with social workers or recreation leaders; children and teens who have been reluctant library users in the past may need your personal encouragement to take part in the library’s summer program.
  • When providing information about the library, tailor that information to the group you are providing it to so that they can clearly see how the library is relevant to them.
  • If you are reaching out to a group that has a relationship with a community leader (e.g. recreation leaders), involve that leader in introducing the library to the group. The introduction will carry more weight when it is endorsed by someone who is trusted by the group.
  • If you are targeting children, the key will always be to make connections with the adults who work and/or interact with them.
  • Develop summer programs that are tailored specifically to the needs and desires of your targeted group. Make sure you offer new users a fun, memorable, and relevant experience that will make them want to come back!
  • You might develop a special library tour for your targeted group to show them how they can make the most of your resources and why they might want to start using the library. You could make the tour fun by organizing an event such as a scavenger hunt to help them find out about the library’s resources.
  • If you are targeting an organized group (e.g. children from a particular homeless shelter or summer day camp) don’t forget to provide a library orientation for staff from those organizations so that they can advocate for the library with the children and make better use of the library’s resources.
  • Offer special summer reading incentives tailored to the members of your targeted group, e.g., baby and children’s books for teen parents.
  • Make the group feel part of the library: if you do an art project with a group outside the library, display the art in the library to encourage them and their families to visit and help them feel that they belong.
  • To help engage different community groups with the library’s summer programming, invite them to participate in large library events such as a carnival or kick-off party. Such groups might include the Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts, Unity Council, Senior Centers, Blood Bank, Water Agency, Air Museum, Art Museum, baseball club, local radio station and newspaper. Each group could have its own area to decorate and provide activities and will be able to promote your program to their constituents.
  • If the Parks Department, or other local organization, is also hosting programs in the summer, cross-promote your activities and offer prizes for attendance at one another’s programs.
  • Find out what other programs or festivals are taking place in the community and how you can take part in them and promote summer reading to new audiences.

Group Kits

The Los Angeles Public Library takes its summer reading program out to community groups using Group Kits. Each kit includes: (a) one group game board; (b) one pack of stickers (25 sheets); (c) one sign-up sheet; (d) 30 dream tickets; and (e) a list of suggested activities that kids can complete to earn stars. Everything fits into a 9″ x 12″ manila envelope and each kit serves 25 kids. The instructions for group leaders are on the game board. Sometimes group leaders visit the library to pick up summer reading prizes, and sometimes the librarian takes prizes out to the group.

Measuring Participation By Your Targeted Group

Because we are asking you to set a target number of members of a particular underserved target group who participate in your summer reading program, you will need to devise a method for counting the members of your group who sign up for summer reading that works for your library and for the particular group. Here are some ideas:

  • Non-English speaking children or teens: count the number of surveys in Spanish (or other language) that are returned.
  • Children from a particular school: add a line to the survey that asks children to identify their school.
  • For smaller, more contained groups such as children from a homeless shelter, take the surveys to them at the end of the summer and code the surveys with a colored sticker.