Case Study: Brooklyn Public Library – Outreach Success from “Hello” to “Hello, World”


The success of a library can be measured via traditional output tracking such as circulation statistics, program attendance, reference questions, or even mentions in local media. Although the Saratoga Branch of Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) in New York excels in these areas, where does success begin? Often little interactions with patrons, over time, yield results that show up in numbers and, more importantly, in the lives of their patrons. At BPL, it’s all about building trust over time, caring, and being open to spontaneity.

One such interaction began with a simple hello from Library Circulation Supervisor Towanda Pace and a compliment on a patron’s stylish clothes (She said: Don’t hurt anybody! to the “dangerous” dresser.), and ended with a library success story that was featured on the immensely popular Humans of New York photo blog. The blog, which has no fewer than 15 million “likes” on Facebook, features pictures of New Yorkers with stories from their lives in their own words.

From the Humans of New York Blog

“I was sitting in the Saratoga library doing some sketches, and one of the librarians started looking over my shoulder. Then suddenly she asked if she could show the sketches to one of her colleagues. Next thing I know—they are asking me to do a series of Halloween sketches to hang in the library”

The smartly dressed man in the ascot raving about his library to millions was no fluke, but a window into the daily efforts of local librarians. Libraries have not only embraced the Web as a channel for outreach and service, but also have taken advantage of the library as a place that connect the public and the staff as never before.

“You cannot be afraid to approach patrons and always have an open mind,” says Pace. “I may play with a baby, ask a child a silly question, inquire about a tattoo or hairstyle or just say hello. Sometimes that opens a lot more avenues than you might expect. Once the public gets to know you; that is when they begin trust you and to open up to you.” For example, gaming programs are a big hit at the Saratoga Branch, where Pace talks with teens about their future plans as an entrée into their participation in more educational programs.

All libraries are local, and have their own audiences and personalities. Neighborhood Library Supervisor Monica Williams says their neighborhood is changing and they greet visitors from all walks of life. She says: “You have to get know your public, know their names, and speak to them; that is when they become part of the family. You will not know what talents they offer or what they can learn if they feel you do not care.”

Defining Outreach Success At BPL’S Saratoga Branch

  • Developing relationships
  • Nurturing talents
  • Building a branch that reflects the community
  • Diverse patron group

The outcomes illustrated by the Humans of New York feature are inspiring to librarians who have passion for their important role in their communities. “What I really like is when someone will say I got the job or I passed the test,” says Williams. “That’s when you feel great about being a librarian. I remember when I had a reference question that required searching databases with a patron who didn’t have any experience with that kind of research. We found the article she was looking for and printed it out. I asked the patron to let me know how her paper turned out. A few weeks later, she gave me a very nice thank you card. She got an ‘A’ on the assignment.”

Often behind the scenes, librarians are among the most interesting and valuable Humans of New York.