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updated: 1/28/2012 9:28 AM

Glen Ellyn Library taking its message to the streets

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  • Executive Director Dawn Bussey and her staff don't think 20- and 30-somethings know enough about the Glen Ellyn Public Library -- and they've launched a program to try to change that.

    Executive Director Dawn Bussey and her staff don't think 20- and 30-somethings know enough about the Glen Ellyn Public Library -- and they've launched a program to try to change that.
    Daily Herald file photo


Ask someone in their 20s or 30s where they like to hang out and it's unlikely their list will include the public library.

As much fun as it can be to troll through the stacks in search of the perfect read, it's a good bet they'll tell you they have better and more exciting things to do.

And, fact is, most libraries don't focus much effort on changing that perception. They have plenty of programs for kids and lots for teens and even senior citizens.

But programs for the post-college crowd? Not so much.

Allison Harrell understands that, but she also believes libraries should be community gathering places for people of all ages.

Her bosses at the Glen Ellyn Public Library agree, and that's why they put her in charge of a "get out to get in" campaign to reach out to what long has been an underserved demographic.

For Harrell, a young adult services librarian, that means the new part of her job increasingly will take her out of the library's familiar surroundings and into some of the village's bars and restaurants.

The premise is simple: If your target audience isn't coming to you, you have to go to your target audience.

Books on Tap

Harrell will be spending a fair amount of time in February in places one doesn't normally associate with an on-duty librarian.

Stroll into the Tap House Grill at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, and you'll find Harrell and maybe a half-dozen others off in the corner munching on appetizers and discussing "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.

It will be the first meeting of the library's Books on Tap group, and it's aimed at those 20- and 30-somethings they're trying to lure into the library.

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, she'll be hanging at the North Side Sports Bar and Grill for an evening of games hosted by a group called Team Trivia that regularly puts on such shows at bars throughout the Chicago area.

Even when she's in the library she'll be welcoming patrons to new programs like Grown-up Cooking Class Wednesday, Feb. 8, where participants will be encouraged to "embrace their inner grown-up."

"We're trying to make the library more social, more fun," she says.

Getting 20-somethings into the Glen Ellyn Library has been "a tough nut to crack," she says, "so we're taking the show to them."

Harrell says other libraries also are trying to reach the same demographic -- St. Charles comes immediately to mind -- "but I'm not sure anyone is doing a great job of it."

Creativity will be key in making such a program work, she says, and while the library is promoting the effort in the media, on Facebook and on its website, the real success or failure will be determined by word-of-mouth.

You don't have to be 30 to participate ("we're not going to ID people," she says) but that's certainly the idea.

"It's really easy for that group to become disengaged from the public library," Executive Director Dawn Bussey says.

Many of them grew up going to their local library, but then they go off to college and find their first jobs and the library -- despite its digital books and downloadable music and all the rest -- gets left in the rearview mirror.

Some young moms eventually come back with little Adam and Wendy in tow, but many others do not.

"We need to have more programming at the library to help pull them back in," Bussey says, and that's where Harrell comes in.

It's a little ironic that Harrell herself doesn't exactly fit in the target demographic, but she says she's been working with teens for a long time and has kids of her own in their 20s, so she's not afraid of any possible communication problems.

"Even if we get six people to our next book group it would be successful," she says. "You just have to have it grow."

History lesson

It doesn't take a linguist to know Harrell didn't grow up around here.

It's been 25 years since she left Alabama, but the soft accent is still firmly in place.

She traveled a great deal over the past few decades before deciding to go back to school for her master's in library science from Dominican University. She joined the Glen Ellyn Library shortly after receiving her degree in 2007 and has been working in the young adult section ever since.

When Bussey suggested she tackle the new outreach program, she says she was more than happy to give it a try.

"I already have a relationship with a lot of teens in the area," she says, "and I feel I relate to them. I feel young at heart."

She says the library successfully targeted high school students over the past several years and "we've seen a tremendous increase in their use of the library. You just have to find the right programs."

Finding their way

Harrell has taken some good-natured kidding from some colleagues about her new task. You know, how tough it must be talking about books or playing trivia in a nice restaurant or bar.

But she's also taken some programming advice from some of the library's younger staff members, including marketing coordinator Heidi Gustad.

"These programs are a great way to attract younger adult visitors to (the library) who might be more interested in attending a book group at a bar, rather than in the library itself," Gustad says.

These are residents of an age and economic status who really don't have to come to the library. The only way to attract them is to make them want to come.

Whether trivia games and cooking classes and barroom book discussions really work remains to be seen.

But Harrell knows how she'll measure the program's success.

"We'll know it worked if we've seen an increase in the numbers of that age group at the library," she says. "We'll know if there's a waiting list for these programs. And we'll know if the library is a thriving place for all age groups."

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