Librarians Need to Show Up

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Many libraries conduct traditional outreach like tables in front of Starbucks, storytimes at the local parks, or showing up at community meetings. These are great ways to get out of the library and into the community at large. But, what if we extended these traditional outreach programs into opportunities for networking with community leaders, politicians, professionals, and entrepreneurs? How would we develop relationships and what could we do with them?

While working for EveryLibrary on political campaigns for libraries I’ve noticed that the better connected a library is to these groups, the better funded they are, the better positioned they are to win their campaign, and the better supported they are in their community. Often, this level of influence in a community is due to only one or two well-connected employees. Typically, this is the library director or assistant director who has spent time and energy building relationships with city council members, attending Kiwanis or Rotary Club meetings, or some other social group. Through these relationships the library is able to gain access to grants and funding opportunities, or establish partnerships to provide bigger and better services, and enjoy the benefits of pro-library political climates. Also, by extending the sphere of influence of the library, there are simply more opportunities all around.

If your library doesn’t have a well-connected administrator, one of the ways to begin is to start providing more services to those with money and power and influence in their communities. Libraries do a good job providing and marketing their services to children, community members in need, the middle class, and many marginalized communities. These services are outstanding and terribly, and unfortunately, much needed across the country and in every town and city. But we also need to reach start-ups, entrepreneurs, unmarried men and women in their late 20s and early 30s, build relationships with local businesses, and maybe even create partnerships with other non-profits and influence politicians. Some people might argue that those people don’t need libraries, and that might be true, but I would argue that libraries need them. I would suggest that libraries need these kinds of community members in order to continue to have the resources and social capital we need to survive.

Because they don’t come into the library, and because we don’t always do a very good job doing outreach in their networks, many libraries might not know how to reach them. In fact, there are only a few ways to get into these networks. The most important and most impactful way is to show up and librarians should always show up. There are few places that librarians can show up, and I’ll just talk about two of them.

If there are any community meetings happening, a librarian should show up. These are opportunities to meet the influential people even if the community meeting has very little to do with the library. There are almost always a wide range of people who attend these meetings and many of the people who show up are the ones who are most committed to the community as well as many local politicians or people with political aspirations. These are some of the few people who actually show up to the city council meetings and speak on behalf of a local issue. The librarian can make many connections with the most politically active community members by showing up to these community meetings and introducing themselves, hearing about their issues, and discussing ways that the library aligns with their beliefs. The best part about working in a library is that there is almost always some way that the library aligns with every local issue even if it just providing books and collections that deal with that issue.

network-after-work-85310445Besides community meetings there are almost always networking events and social engagements throughout the area or nearby. If you live in or near a larger city, one of my favorite networking events is called Network After Work and has large networking events happening across the country at very low prices. I always tried to attend as many as I could or send my librarians to the ones happening nearby. If you don’t have a Networking After Work nearby, try looking for events on Facebook, Meetup.com, or even Craigslist. These kinds of events are filled with people working in start-ups, entrepreneurs, bankers, and new or early professionals who want to work on projects. One of the big things I always came away with where a handful of cards of people who wanted to do something in the library like debut their documentary, host a financial literacy fair, or provide some other program. But, the most important outcome was the opportunity to talk about the services that the library can provide to these kinds of individuals who don’t usually use the library as well as find people who want to help the library through donations, volunteerism, or other engagement like speaking or writing in support of the library when you need them to.

My biggest issue is that I’m an introvert. This is something that I wanted to be able to work around so I have spent a lot of time learning how to be social in these situations and I’ve spoken and written about how to fake being an extrovert until you get the hang of it. You can watch the talk in the video below.

A Video Tour of the EPA Seed Library.

This is an updated video of the EPA Seed library. In this version, Nicole Wires gives a tour of the library and explains how to use it. This video also includes interviews with the builder of the library case, a seed library patron, and Kris Jenson the executive director of Collective Roots. Collective Roots is the local gardening organization that the EPA library collaborated with to create this library.


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So Much To Do… What Should I do First?

So I’ve been complaining about not knowing what to do next. I have my personal life goals sorted out as in this post, and I’m still figuring out my professional goals, but I’m just not sure where to start within my library system because there is so much that I want to do. There are quite a few large projects that I want to take on at the branch I work at right now, but I have no idea what I would do first. So I created this list because people asked me what it was that I wanted to do and also as a way for me to keep track of all my ideas. Let me know what you think!

Volunteering Program
Fully develop a volunteering program that establishes job roles and duties and outlines a training program. Implement this program to create a “staff” of volunteers to relieve staff of some of the day-to-day duties of maintaining the branch to allow them to perform larger duties with more significant results.

Graffiti Arts
The library needs some more modern art… Badly. Currently, the art on the walls was put there in the 80s but its from an African Art collection from far earlier and its representative of the culture of the community as it was about 25 years ago. Since then, the community has drastically changed and some new art needs to be displayed. The Police had a program that encouraged young graffiti artists to use their skills more positively. I would love to partner with this group to paint a graf mural on some of our blank walls.

Establish a Friends of the Library Group
This library has not had a FOL group for approximately 10 years. There are a number of barriers to establishing the group but I believe the need for community outreach and the ability to expand programs and services far outweigh the hardship of the barriers.

Create a Community Newsletter
A community newsletter could help to bring in more patrons for programs and services that are offered as well as notify patrons of new programs and services.

Improve Wayfinding and use of Space
The current configuration of the library does not currently lend itself to efficient wayfinding for patrons. Movement of furniture and better signage can create a useful library space as well as allow access to some of the “hidden” collections.

Simplify the Organization of Digital Information in the Library System
Currently the library system uses a wide number of information systems for communication. For example- staff email, Blogs, Servers, Websites, are all provided via different methods and therefore require a number of different passwords and access systems. Are each of these necessary? Can it be simplified?

Centralized Ordering
Develop and implement a plan for standardizing and centralizing the office supply ordering. The savings to the library system could be significant through the purchase of supplies in bulk and through re-negotiated contracts for larger orders.

Development of instrument collection and system wide music programs
The library could work to provide a collection of musical Instruments for check-out. Specifically, I was thinking guitars but this could be expanded or changed. For example in the library it might be hugely successful to check out Ukuleles. These check-outs would be in conjunction with a series of group classes lasting 8 weeks, during which time the students would have the instruments checked-out to them.

Roaming Reference and Mobile Devices
Develop and implement a plan to utilize mobile technology such as PDAs, smart phones, and other hand held electronic devices to assist in roaming (mobile?) reference and check-outs “on the go.”

Development of a Social Media campaign
Create a more robust online profile for the library system utilizing many of the online social networks and static sites to increase the library’s level of Online Social Capital. This could be done through the creation of a plan at the branch level to increase community involvement, or by creating one larger profile for the entire system.

Text Book Collection
There are a number of schools in the surrounding community served by the library. The library should establish closer partnerships with these groups and provide the services and materials needed by the students. These materials include research, book reports, and textbooks.

QR Codes
So, I’m not sure where I got this idea but I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with it. I want to place QR codes around the community in significant areas where people can scan the codes to find more information about that place (or activity that occurs in that area) in the catalog. So, for example, books on hiking on mountain trails linked to a QR code placed at the head of the trail.