Outside the Lines: Libraries Reintroduced

Erica Grossman, Outside the Lines /

Libraries and library staff are skilled in their ability to adapt to meet the changing needs of their communities. Step into today’s library, and you might find expanded collections that include everything from telescopes to fishing poles to sewing machines. Libraries have embraced ideas and services that help communities to be their best, whether that’s by providing access to the latest technology or facilitating life-long learning through programming for all ages. Yet, despite these innovations, many outdated perceptions of libraries linger. For the library industry as a whole, the challenge remains: How do we help our communities understand that libraries are more relevant than ever? Outside the Lines, now in its fourth year, is an international grassroots initiative aimed at doing just that.

A weeklong global celebration

Outside the Lines is a weeklong celebration – September 10-16, 2017 – demonstrating the creativity and innovation happening in libraries. Libraries of all types–small, large, urban, rural, public, academic–are invited to participate in an effort to reintroduce themselves to their communities. To do this, organizations agree to host at least one event or campaign during Outside the Lines (OTL) that gets people thinking and talking about libraries in a new way.

As of the late July, more than 160 libraries from across the globe–from Alabama to California, Brazil to Croatia, Ghana to Australia–will take part in OTL 2017, tailoring their events to meet the needs of their specific communities. Outside the Lines is designed to be flexible so that all libraries, no matter their size or resources, can engage with their communities in a way that works for them. Creative outreach can benefit any community – OTL simply provides a framework and support to help make it happen. And you are invited to include your library and community to this weeklong celebration!

Brainstorming for a successful OTL

Figuring out how to participate in Outside the Lines might feel a little daunting at first – the possibilities are endless. So how do you figure out a creative way to celebrate the library while also representing your community? When working with libraries on developing ideas for a successful OTL, we’ve found the following brainstorming activity to be effective. With your planning team, ask the following questions:

  • What words describe your community?
  • If you were to take your library out into the community, where would you take it?
  • What would the community be surprised to learn about your library?
  • Thinking about your answers, what dream OTL event would you host? With this question, we encourage libraries to think big and take inspiration from those big ideas. Your big dream might be closer to a reality than you think, and you can always scale back as necessary.

From a battle of the bands to wine festivals and floating libraries, check out some of the ideas that formed from one such brainstorming session at the Public Library Association 2017 conference.


“Every day of OTL I met people who were delighted to find the library out and about. We learned together about our community, splendid parks, amazing nature, fascinating personal stories, and the power of play.”

Heather Ogilvie, Bay County Public Library, Florida


In 2016, Bay County Public Library participated in Outside the Lines by hosting adventure walks, potluck picnics and a “Read on the Beach” session where residents received free admission to a state park with their library card.

Last-minute ideas

For libraries interested in participating but worried about not having enough planning time, there are several ways to create an easy OTL experience. In fact, sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most effective. We’ve seen a number of libraries share great success in setting up shop at their local farmers’ market, on the bike trail, or at the bus stop. What about a pop-up story time at an unexpected place like the park or a local business? You don’t have to throw a parade to make an impact on your community.

Using OTL to reach your organizational goals

Is there a specific audience your library is trying to reach? Is there a community partnership you’d like to form? What about a strategic goal you hope to fulfill? Whatever your library’s current goals, Outside the Lines can help you reach them. For example, if your library is looking to promote a specific service, think about the target audience for that service. Where in the community might you reach them? Outside the Lines is a great way to experiment and try something new.


“We were surprised at the fact that we were able to accomplish so much in just a week. A lot of our campaigns and events were things we have been wanting to do for a long time, so it was nice to finally have a catalyst to do them and find out that it was all possible!”

Jenna Harte, Sterling Municipal Library, Texas, OTL 2016


Learn more about setting and achieving organizational goals using specific examples in this free webinar hosted in conjunction with the Public Library Association.

Why participate in Outside the Lines?

  • Shift perceptions of libraries in our communities and help them understand their relevancy
  • Publicity on a state and national level
  • Experiment and pilot new services
  • Establish new partnerships
  • Meet organizational goals and objectives

Looking for more information? Start with these resources.


“There’s a project in every community that needs a partner to help it take shape, and the library can be that partner.”

Erin Sullivan, Orange County Library System, Florida

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