I recently started volunteering for the Heidelberg Project again and I’m really excited to be directly supporting a community. I mostly do some light research but it still feels good. In a conversation with their development director recently, I got to talk about my passion for community and civic engagement in public libraries. I used to do research on this in grad school and, of course, I was raised (professionally speaking) in the Fayetteville Public Library.
These are the priorities I think libraries (and librarians) need to encompass to remain relevant pillars of civic engagement and the heart of our communities. This is a list shared by lots of other folks and it certainly isn’t unique to me.
- Librarians get out in the community
- Being on committees, boards, going to meetings, going to events
- Libraries are reflections of their communities/Libraries are relevant
- Libraries need to be able to adapt to neighborhood demands, library branches need to reflect the neighborhood they serve with distinct collections, services and programs–not just be the same ‘ol library across the board. They also locate, gather and disseminate community information (often ephemeral information that relates to services, opportunities or activities that support the well-being of a community and disseminated by community informatics techniques, SkokieNet is a prime example of this).
- Libraries are community partners
- Libraries need to partner with businesses, government, other services and educational institutions to piggyback off their services and help catalyze better value–libraries offer expertise in literacies, education and can offer services other organizations can’t. Libraries can be proactive partners rather than passive offerers of information.
- Libraries are in the community
- Library services are where the people are–in schools, in commerce centers or in community centers, don’t make people go to the library, get the library to the people.
- Librarians as thought-leaders
- Thinking about the next step of services–if the community needs to rethink urbanism and scale in a different way, how can libraries facilitate this thinking? They can offer workshops, trainings, collections and other services to support urban farming, maker spaces, tech geeks, etc.
- I also think libraries should be civic leaders, supporting civic engagement, education and thoughtful dialogs–here’s where your interest in healing the nation’s race relations comes into play, and this is woven into all the other aspects of this.