A fundamental belief I hold when it comes to community engagement is a visible, constant presence. I can't expect to meet the needs of the community I am serving if they don't know who I am or if they do know who I am but they can't reliably find me.
This belief was informed by my work with elementary students at the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC). The kids trusted me more when I was there four days a week. They were excited when they knew it was a day I was coming to the center and were disappointed when I had a conflict on those days.
So I took that experience and applied it to my job as library supervisor. I scheduled two four hour periods each week where I would be at my libraries. These times would be advertised as "Office Hours," in hopes of encouraging students to seek me out for reference support. In many ways, reference was not my priority with establishing these hours.
With these hours I wanted to spend time with the clerks I supervise and to get to know the students who used the library. As I built relationships then it would transition into other meaningful interactions and some of those might be reference.
The hard part of this all was not getting discouraged at the beginning. When I started in the fall, I spent four hours either talking to my clerks or doing various supervisor tasks I needed to accomplish. No students stop by specifically to talk to me. But I had to keep reminding myself that those four hours were not wasted. You have to put in the time to see the results.
And I did. As spring rolled around, I set aside a new eight hours to be at office hours, using my experience in the fall to decide when to come in. I actually switched days in hopes of getting more traffic on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I also had a collaboration in the works with one of the multicultural advocates who wanted to use the library space on Thursdays making one set of office hours easy to set up.
Since starting a new set of office hours in January, almost every Tuesday or Thursday during the four hour chunk includes a student interaction. Some are set up and others are drop ins. It is in these interactions that I actually feel like I am making an impact as supervisor, which is incredibly rewarding. Office hours have allowed me to collaborate on the Blind Date with a Book program, many stimulating community conversations, and some great research/reference interviews. Students finally know that I am available and ready to help and they are taking advantage of it.
The one thing people say when they hear about my office hours is, "Wow, 7-11 PM is pretty late." I know that we live in a culture where a 9-5 job is typical. But for me, that doesn't work for undergraduate students. I chose 7-11 PM because it is when the students are around. They are done with dinner and digging into their homework (a routine I know all too well). I can't build relationships if I choose times that don't work with an undergraduate schedule. So yes, I'm hanging out in the residence halls until 11 PM some nights but a late night there probably means it was a good night to be a library supervisor.