Community-Led Librarians


By Awnali Mills

I love reading blogs that teach me things, or inspire me to learn new ways of doing things.  Dana Horrocks’ article Community-Led Children’s Librarians over on Jbrary is a perfect example of this.  I’ve read bits and pieces about the community-led philosophy recently, but she did a fantastic job of tying everything together.  I particularly appreciated her link to the Community-Led Librarians Toolkit.  While I greatly appreciate learning about the philosophy behind the actions, I need the rubber-meets-the-road, this-is-how-you-actually-do-it bit, too, and the toolkit spells out how their librarians made it work with real life examples.

Basically, if I’m understanding it correctly, the idea is to get librarians out of the library, have them meet the underserved population of their community (the people who won’t walk in the doors) and discover what their needs are.  Their purpose is NOT to advertise library services, but to listen to what their community really needs.  Once those needs have been discovered, then the library brainstorms on ways to meet the community needs.

One example of this was from The Social Justice Librarian.  They talked to their local food bank and discovered that foods were going to waste because people wouldn’t take them home.  They wouldn’t take them home because they didn’t know how to prepare them.  The library’s solution was to print labels with the library’s phone number on them and attach them to the foods.  At the library, they created a desktop file with easy recipes that featured those foods.  What a great response to a need!  If they had just called the food bank and said, “Hey, we have a lot of cookbooks here.  Let folks know, okay?”  They probably wouldn’t have gotten much of a response.

I am intrigued with the way this model engages the community in dialog.  Instead of complaining that we can’t get people into the library, we go out and find them, find out what they need, and then combine our creativity and our resources to meet the needs.

Sounds like a plan to me.

What do you think?  Should libraries actively engage their communities, or should they just mind the books and not bother people who can’t be bothered to enter the library?

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