Late last summer, I picked up the ballgame schedule for the Hudson Valley Renegades (New York) baseball team. Scanning the list of sponsors—a local hospital, an insurance company and car dealerships—I wondered, ‘Why don’t public libraries sponsor these kinds
of events?’ It turns out, with a bit of ingenuity and collaboration, libraries
can sponsor a baseball game. On June 30, 2012, we did just that when 21 area libraries joined together to sponsor
Geek the Library Night, to raise awareness of the
Geek the Library community awareness campaign, to a sold out crowd of over 5,000 who came to watch the Renegades play against "the Staten Islands".
An event like this puts libraries in an unexpected place in front of an engaged audience of sports fans—often our biggest competition in getting solid attendance to our programs. To me, this was a winning opportunity all around, but it was bigger than just
our Wallkill Public Library. I reached out to library colleagues to create a presence that truly served all the fans expected at this popular summer baseball venue. The Geek the Library community awareness campaign had energized our libraries before and I
knew it would be able to unify us again around this fun new venture.
Wallkill Public Library was the first library in New York to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded campaign designed to give library leaders
tools to generate awareness and enthusiasm in their communities. Sponsoring a Geek the Library Fireworks Night provided a public opportunity to realize the goals of the campaign: to create awareness of what our libraries do for communities; to engage people
about their passions; to reboot the perception of libraries; and ultimately to garner support so libraries stay funded and going strong.
Librarians and volunteers from Hudson Valley libraries worked together to create a fun and edgy presence
at the stadium. We were reaching out to baseball fans, some of whom may not have stepped inside of a library for years. We stuffed hundreds of goodie bags with library card applications, fun and informative bookmarks and brochures, summer reading flyers,
pencils, stickers and tattoos. Volunteers greeted fans at the gate with the bags and stickers and staffed an information table that welcomed people as they walked into the stadium. Using a laptop computer along with a Nook and a Kindle, we showed people how
we are responding to new uses of technology and introduced them to the process of downloading eBooks—for free! We asked fans “What do you Geek?” and had them write their passions down on a huge display—giving us plenty of programming and collection ideas to
take back to our libraries. We shared conversations, laughs and e-mail addresses, forging important new relationships.
I was even interviewed on centerfield by the Renegades’ announcer, giving me excellent field position for a conversation with more than 5,000 fans about what is really happening in libraries today. I also thwarted their idea for a stadium-wide ‘shush’ at
the end of my interview and replace it with a rousing cheer for libraries —ushering in a more fun and refreshing image to help change the perception of libraries today."
We came together for a chance to stretch our creativity, have fun and think outside of the box. New venues like this offer libraries a lot of bang for relatively little buck. With an economic climate posing monumental funding and technological challenges
to libraries, it has never been more important for us to get these important messages out into our own communities.
If the buzz from this Geek the Library night is any indication, I would be willing to bet that people will talk about this experience for a long time to come, and best of all, think about libraries in a whole new way.