Since outreach accomplishes a variety of goals, including allowing people to access services that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to and allowing people to learn about what services the library provides, there are a variety of methods that outreach librarians use, in a variety of settings, to accomplish such goals.

Prison outreach. Many librarians put their outreach skills to use in a prison setting. Librarians can perform outreach in a multitude of ways within prisons and for inmates. Some librarians gather books to deliver to inmates, others volunteer at prison libraries, and others participate in teaching information literacy to inmates enrolled in college-credit programs. Anna Garcia, an outreach librarian who works in a prison setting, explains that, “offering our skills and services to inmates benefits so many stakeholders. It benefits inmates…it benefits the families and friends of inmates. It can benefit society when we contribute to reducing recidivism through education for inmates. This is not pie-in-the-sky, Pollyanna wishing; this is a real contribution to bettering the world.” Not only have individual librarians discovered the benefits of providing outreach to prison populations, ALA also supports outreach efforts aimed at inmates. ALA policy 8.2 states, “The American Library Association encourages public libraries and systems to extend their services to residents of jails and other detention facilities within their taxing areas.” For those who want to learn more about how to administer outreach to prison populations and how to get started please refer to ALA’s prison libraries resources page, which can be found at

Poor and homeless outreach. People that are experiencing poverty and homelessness make up a significant portion of public library users, especially at urban libraries. These patrons may use the library for various reasons including shelter, entertainment, to socialize, or as a place to access technology and the Internet. Yet many of these people may not know about the full range of services that many public libraries offer, or they may not know how to use the resources in the library. This is where outreach comes in. Many librarians are able to connect homeless or economically disadvantaged patrons with the information and resources that they need to find employment and housing. This can be as simple as librarians handing out 2-1-1 cards, in and outside of the library, or as in depth as a library hiring a social worker to directly connect people with housing, employment, medical, and psychological resources. Jenna Nemec-Loise explains that, “as public library professionals, we do our best to serve whomever walks through our doors as ably and as knowledgeably as we can…but despite our very best intentions, we can’t always work our magic. Homeless patrons sometimes need more immediate, skilled, or complex assistance than what we can provide during a single library visit.” In these cases social workers or psychologists would be more apt to serve such patrons. In 2009, the nation’s first full-time library social worker, Leah Esguerra, was hired at San Francisco’s main public library branch. Leah provides information about where people can access free meals, temporary shelters, and legal aid. She is fully trained as a social worker and a psychiatrist which means that patrons have access to a person who has the knowledge, experience and training to help them with their specific issues, something that a regular librarian may not be able to do. Since Leah was hired as the first library social worker, many other urban libraries have followed suit including the D.C. Public Library.

Many homeless, mentally ill, battered women, and youth patrons need access to health services as well as social work services. The public libraries in Tucson Arizona have acknowledged this need and hired the nation’s first registered nurses to work inside their libraries. These library nurses may do anything from checking patrons’ blood pressure to helping parents arrange medical appointments for their children. Having library nurses is a great way for patrons to learn about various health care facilities and low-cost options that regular librarians may not be aware of.

Many smaller or rural public libraries do not have the funding or resources necessary to help inmates or homeless populations in the ways described above. Yet smaller scale libraries can still make a difference for these patrons.

Another approach to homeless outreach involves libraries, in cold climates, that provide donation bins. Patrons can leave warm hats, mittens, and coats in the donation bins and other patrons that need them can take them for free, or the library will take the donation bin to local shelters. This simple act of outreach could mean a world of difference to someone who may have to spend the night outside during the winter. This is just a small taste of the ways that libraries can perform outreach to help inmates, homeless, and economically disadvantaged patrons. For more sources on this type of outreach please see ALA’s outreach resources for services to the poor and homeless page, which can be found here



Garcia, Anna.

Kim, Eun.

Nemec-Loise, Jenna.


Written by Rachael Terry, 7/12/15.