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Building Your Library Community

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PNLA 2010

PNLA 2010

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  • All this leads me to the central question in what has now been a decade of my work in libraries
  • All this leads me to the central question in what has now been a decade of my work in libraries
  • WebJunction
  • And so I went back to some of the things that I had explored through my studies in library school.Ray Oldenburg; great good placesJohn Seely Brown; the social life of documentsRobert Putnam; bowling alone
  • Not to get to theoretical here, but Putnam is a sociologst, academic, researcher. He has some pretty heady way of saying some things.
  • But it all boils down to this concept of social capital. The idea is that when you add trust to a social network, you get a collective value from the nice things that people are willing to do for each other.
  • Which brings me to my final influence from library school. Surprise surprise, it wasn’t in a book.
  • But where was the library
  • To be fair. Some librarians were talking about library services from a community building perspective. They noticed that libraries were not included in Bowling Alone. In her 2001 article in American Libraries, Jean Preer concluded that “libraries must be part of society’s thinking about how we develop and nurture social as well as information networks.”
  • Beginning in 2003, OCLC also started to help us sort these issues out as well, with a series of reports to their membership on the primary issues and challenges facing libraries.
  • The first report, an environmental scan, revealed that some librarians were already keen on the changes taking place – many that were still so new at the time. It started to dawn on us then, perhaps as a procession, that we were potentially disregarding what our users needs and preferences really are.
  • Two years later, the perceptions report showed us that, perhaps because of that focus on retrieval, accuracy, our brand was pretty embedded in people’s minds. And this is universal. “Books, books, books, rows and rows of books, stacks of books, tables filled with books, people holding books, people checking out books. Libraries are all about books. That is what I think and that is what I will always think.”
  • But these users also gave us some advice Libraries should look at community spaces, and also look at the value of online tools, and try to be more relevant in the digital age.
  • And then in 2007, OCLC explored how users and libraries were engaged with the new web. Their study found that roughly 28% of the population had used a social netowrking or social media site in the last year. When you pull out the college aged kids and below, those numbers go up to 50% and above.
  • Why do they use those services? My friends use the same site.
  • Have you used a social networking site in the last week? What were your reasons? You put all this together…people, networks, user and community needs, and the library’s mission, and you’ve got the central questions of my book:Who is thinking about library practice from a communtiy building lens? Who is doing it well? And what can we learn from that?The world has really changed, even since I published this work just over a year ago.
  • We talked to hundreds of librarians over the course of the nearly three years working on this project, in order to answer these questions. What we learned is that there were at least five critical concepts or practices for the librarians who value community building as part of their work.I’m going to talk about each of the a little bit today.
  • One of the first things I learned as I embarked on this project was that the library staff who view their profession through a community building lens were constantly asking the question – in one form or another: What does my community need? How can I be sure? How can I learn more?
  • I open the chapter with a collection of quotes from some of the library staff we interveiwed from this project, but this is one of my favorites: from barbarafister in a medium academic library in minnesota: “Libraries should be about the people they’re for, not the services we think they need.” The book provides an overview and a few resources for anyone who’d like to get started with assessment, but here are a few of my favorite examples from the librarians we talked to – already doing this work.
  • Rachel MacNeilley. I never tire of telling this story.
  • The public library for the City of Casa Grande in AZ used a planning for results process to identify workforce development and adult literacy as two needs that they would focus strategically on. In their focus on adult literacy, they established a tutoring service, and bookmobile services (since transportation had been identified as a major issue). The results were incredible: in the first year of the programCirculation increased by 17% Number of borrowers increased by 20%Database use went up 70%“and these are just a few of the quantifiable measures we are now able to report on as a result of our planning project.” Jeff Scott
  • Once we understand the needs, and this is evidence based, not just what we think our users need…We need to deliver and design services that meet real needs.
  • Again, I open the chapter with a collection of interviews and transcripts from the librarians I talked to, but embedded in all of these is a strong focus on service, and human interaction, even over books and materials. A lot of these librarians brought design concepts – not only to our thinking and practice for building library spaces, but also for presenting library services that actually give our users good experiences – in the library and on the web. They stressed that we need to first understand our users needs before we make any effort to develop solutions, and expressed a concern that it’s really hard to find good, working examples of library staff taking this approach.Never fear … I uncovered a few.
  • Meg Canada at Hennepin County library told me about her work with Teen links.. A webportal for teens on the library website that’s generated not only For but BY the teens themselves. Volunteer teen advisory group. Determines goals each yearWorks in subcommittees to reach them.-create their own webpages, do writing contests, and record book reviews as podcasts.-photographs of local teens, weekly features such as a news blog, quick polls, and schedule of events.
  • The next concept or practice that our community centered librarians revealed was that needs assessment and service were only the beginning of an ongoing conversation.
  • Ultimately, this is about effective advocacy – otherwise known as marketing – which sometimes gets a bad rep in our profession. But marketing is literally the process of understanding and meeting customer needs, the needs of real people, and then staying engaged in an ongoing conversation about that.
  • Molly Rogers – Wayne County Public Library, rural library in Pennsylvania.Realized they had a lot of patrons coming in during the summer months from all over the world to use public access computers; asked patrons to put a pin on the map, and then write down wehre they were from on a legal pad. A year later, they realized that a growing diversity of users who lived right in the same county … but who had immigrated from all over the wrold.The physical map helped them partner with organizations that share a global perspective, like their local Rotary, and they were able to get new and matching funds for more public access computers.
  • I’d like to switch gears here and bring up a very simple way that we can do this engagement work. And that’s simply to show up. In meetings. On the web. Anywhere but behind the desk where we’ll have the opportunity to connect with our users.And this is where connecting with our own friends, neighbors, and even colleagues can be an asset to our ability to build community overall.
  • This is my colleague Michael Porter, who produced a series called “ummarketing for libraries” with Helene Blowers, where they tough library staff how to tell the libraries story using all kinds of digital media. But how did he get there … to the point where he had all these stories to share, and practices to learn from?
  • It all started with flickr. Libraries and librarians. But it was a personal passion that brought Michael to the website.
  • Overtime, expanded to other venues
  • And even venues between venues.
  • And then into the myriad of spaces that so many of us now think of as mainstream. I think Michael was the first librarian that I knew in all of them.
  • And if you think this isn’t part of your job. And I don’t mean hanging out online, though it is a part of Michael’s job, but I mean hanging out where your friends, colleagues, and neighbors are … around town or online … as a representative of the library. Then I would remind you of the advice one 47 year old patron gave to us in the 2005 perceptions of libraries report. The one that identified books as our brand. Very simply…stop making it feel like church. So get out there. Have some fun while you’re at it.
  • Evaluation is the key to understanding how we’re doing in all this. We heard from the librarians we talked to that they believed it was critical, essential to their work.Rachel McNeilly told me for example “I love stats. You can think you’re changing things. But your stats let you know whether you really are.”
  • Unfortunately, it’s also the area where we had the hardest time identifying real, practicable examples of high quality evaluation for the programs and services. I think this has improved since I published the book, especially with folks like IMLS focusing on and even requiring outcomes based evaluations for the projects they fund.
  • I do have one great story to tell.This is from Catherine d’Italia from the Hartford public library – at the end of a20 year career when I interviewed her for the project.She described to me how Louise Blalock, the city librarian, arrived and put a stake in the ground about their library being one of the first to model going beyond the library’s doors and becoming “part of the fabric of the coommunity” They did a strategic planSet up evaluation according to four criteria:End results for library customersProcesses and practices that enable the library to serve well and achieve better resultsLearning and growth of the employess and the collectionsLeadership and engagement I the community and region that the library can serve.
  • So they set up a neighborhood teams division. Each team is made up of staff members from the branch and the central library.Reps fromt eh central library had to have some connection to the neighborhood. In one fiscal year their library staff members attended 600 community meetings, and overall attendance in those meetings was 31000.“Very few people in and around hartford,” she says, “do not know what the library is doing or do not appreciate its efforts.” As a result, the library can now better anticipate their community needs … and thery were recogniaed nationally as a model for proactive community service through a study supported by Univ of Michigan and IMLS. When I asked her about any advice that she might have for librarians just trying to figure this out, she said. Make it a priority. “The rewards are enormous.”
  • The final concept we learned about and explored for this project, and maybe the thing that wraps all of these ideas together, is the concept of sustainability.
  • In all of our interviews, and underlying all of these other concepts was the librarians’ strong desire to keep library services relevant, to ensure that we’re staying in constant communication with our users about those services, so that the library could remain viable for the long term.
  • My favorite story here was the story of the Kankakee Public Library. Cynthia Fuerst. Small town, 30K people, struggling.Rated last in the 1999 Places Rated Almanac.Strong partnership with the city, and with local business. “our goals support the city’s goals” she said.Starting with a needs assessment and evaluating specifically the abilty to raise funds for the library, they determined the need, and the desire, within their community for a new facility. City came up with funding, in partnership with a local developer. Three times as large, five times the computers.“Use has tripled in our first year and continues to grow.” New businessesFriends group increased from 20 to 150And then a pulitzer prize nominated author graced the library with a NYT op-ed piece. Kankakee gets its groove back.“Kankakee is pulling itself back from the brink, he claims, and it all started with the library. “
  • Ultimately what she told me she learned from this experience. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. Building community wasn’t just about money. You have to make the best of what you have and think outside the box. Utilize everyone on your staff, from shelvers to board members. They know what the community, what people are talking about, what is popular, what is needed, what will go over with their neighbors.

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