How to get people to talk to you at open houses

Spoiler alert: the answer is bribery. Specifically, bribery with candy and T-shirts.

School or community open houses are an important part of my job. This year, I’ve really been trying to be out in the community as much as possible because sometimes you have to meet people where they are. There will always be those families and patrons that come to the library no matter what. They know about the programs, the resources, how to request items and pick them up, etc. Those patrons are lovely and incredibly important because they use the library and are often advocates for the library within the community and their own friends. Anyway, those are not the people I’m hoping to connect with at a school open house. I’m hoping to get the people who are new to the city, who may have lived in the city their whole lives but have never gone to the library, the teens who only think of the library when they need their summer reading books, or the patrons who don’t realize we have e-books or museum passes or teen librarians or any of the other fabulous things we have. I had a patron at the house open I was at Thursday scoff at me when I said I was the teen librarian then got incredulous because she realized I was serious. Can you say awkward?

But sometimes the open houses can be a challenge. You might get a weird place in the room in between the super jacked, charismatic (read: cute) P.E. teacher and the PTO selling candles. And then there’s the whole talking to people thing. I am not a naturally outgoing person in a room full of strangers. I learned how to be okay with silence in conversations in college and really, really hate small talk. So it is a challenge for me to ask a million people, “Hi, do you have a library card? Do you want to hear about teen programs?” By the end of the night I’m exhausted.

The solutions that I’ve come up with are to 1.) put on a “performance” as a chatty, outgoing person that way I know that I don’t have to be like that forever, just for those few hours and 2.) break the ice with the offer of a piece of candy and/or a library scratch ticket. What’s a library scratch ticket? It’s just like it sounds: I made homemade scratch off tickets with library prizes. I had these amazing T-shirts to give out, $1 off late fines, and a few random prizes I had been hoarding like The Fault in Our Stars temporary tattoos, Superman posters, and buttons from going to a Libba Bray book signing. I also had a big folding poster thing because last year everyone else had one and I felt really left out. It’s nothing spectacular but it does make for a bigger presence.

The calm before the storm.
The calm before the storm.

I must say, it was a big hit! Teens, kids, and adults alike all liked the idea of the scratch tickets. (School janitors? Perhaps not so much since the paint flaked off and got EVERYWHERE! Sorry!) They were really excited about the “Nevins Cool” T-shirts which were left over from an ill-fated movie theatre advertising campaign which I hope to write about someday. Offering candy or a scratch ticket got the people to stay there for a minute so I could tell them about some of my teen programs and get them interested. It definitely worked. If they did a scratch ticket, they were more likely to take a program flyer, too!

Going to open houses and other events aren’t just great because you get to see patrons in their natural habitats, but it’s great for more connections throughout the community as well. Because of the two open houses I attended (one for the 9th grade and the other for one of the four middle schools in town), I’ve received two other invitations to community events. One is for a college and career fair at the high school where I can talk about being a librarian and how to do that, and the other is potential monthly school visits to English classes to give booktalks. If you make yourself willing to go outside of the library, you’ll continue get invited places and people will start to recognize you more. And that’s always a good thing!

And now for something completely different: my fellow librarians and other lovers of books, I have found the greatest dress of all time. I saw it via a blog which was perhaps Already Pretty – a great blog for quirky, fashionable people of all sizes. I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter, gaze upon this glory:

This is not me, as I never expose Teddy to the elements.
This is not me, as I never expose Teddy to the elements.

Bookshelf print!!! Amazing! I stalked it online until I could get it in store and then snatched it. I spent more than I usually do on an item of clothing (and it was new and not thrifted or consignment which is also rare for me) but I think it’s going to be worth it. Feel free to be a copycat. Let’s all wear them to NELA 2013, yes?

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