Community building is one of those buzz phrases in the library world. Everyone is saying it. Everyone wants it. Not everyone is doing it. Community building within the library is something that I feel quite passionate about – enough so that I’m hi-jacking my blog to talk about it. Community building was a considerable component of my MLIS degree. I employed the tactics at my previous position and saw fantastic results. I’m currently working my way through the same steps to test their effectiveness in a different system. Thus far, I find it quite exciting… but it will be a while before we have numerous proven, documented results to share with you. But I can confirm that we have seed partnerships, enthusiasm, and increased community involvement. But this isn’t magic. It’s something every library can have.
Since Community Building has developed some buzz, it has some different interpretations as to what it actually is. I’ll start with some basic concepts so we all have the same understanding.
Community Building is the act of the library being actively involved in the wider community around them, driving it towards full engagement and improvement.
Community Building is not walking through the streets of your community with your hand out. This is certainly something libraries need to do to provide some programs and activities. This activity does actively get the library out in the community. It is a very necessary and valid activity of Children’s, Young Adult, and Adult Services. It is not an activity that I consider as Community Building.
A driving force behind efforts to become a cornerstone to the community is to gather the support necessary for the library to move forward as well. HOWEVER, partnerships should be forged with the priority of being MUTUALLY beneficial. This means that yes, the library will receive something from the other organization BUT the library will provide something as well. Think the old time, I scratch your back, you scratch mine – except the benefit is your community members! Would you like an example? Fantastic, I have a bunch – but my most current project is the one I’m most excited about so we’ll use that one.
Currently my library is offering Food for Fines. We are accepting non-perishable food in payment of library fines. The food is then being donated to our local food bank. Wonderful right? Our patrons are able to pay off fines and regain access to their accounts with donations. What makes this special? Why is it community building? Because this isn’t the extent of the partnership. In addition to serving our patrons, the library has also provided promotional materials and coupons for free prints to the food bank families. The coupons will hopefully be used to print resumes, job applications, employment forms, etc. The families that receive these coupons are families that have already qualified for assistance so we know that this financial break is needed. In addition to providing a way to reach these families who need assistance, the director is sharing library services with all of the families who enter the door. We are sharing the opportunity to clear fines, library resources to help find employment, library mission, and food bank mission with numerous media outlets. Potentially in the future, there is consideration that families complete a tour of the library as a portion of orientation to assistance. This will introduce some families to resources they might not even be aware exist. Very exciting stuff.