Community-Led Children’s Librarians

We’ve had some pretty powerful posts in the past which have touched on the idea of community-led library service and I wanted to kick off a series of posts which allow me to explore this philosophy in a little more depth. So here goes: an introduction to community-led work, Children’s Librarians style! A quick definition if you please:

Excerpt from Connecting the Dots: A Guidebook for Working with Community
Excerpt from Connecting the Dots: A Guidebook for Working with Community

The excerpt from above comes from a brilliant handbook written by some great folks at the Vancouver Public Library including one of our heroes Els Kushner. You can access this guidebook, plus a lengthier exploration of the Community-Led Service Planning Model developed out of the Working Together Project here. As you might have noticed here in Vancouver we are swimming in innovative folks and have also been lucky to learn from the cross-Canada work of John Pateman who we saw at a conference last year (here’s a similar version of his presentation) and Ken Williment who blogs at Social Justice Librarian.

I am also blessed to work in a large enough library system that I have a Community Librarian right at my branch. Not to mention she is a dear friend to both Lindsey and I and taught us both Boom Chicka Boom AND There Was a Crocodile. Let’s just say she’s our favourite! But I digress, working with (and watching!) Christie has taught me some simple principles which I now do my best to remember and practice as often as I can.

Slow Your Role (and maybe change it up too)

This is something which has taken me a long time to learn and even longer to put into practice but here’s what it looks like: I cold-call a new group in my community and simply ask if I can come say hello. If they’re open to this I drop by, say hello and introduce myself. I explain that I am trying to learn more about services for families in our area and ask questions like tell me about your centre, what do you like about our neighbourhood, what’s difficult for you/your centre? My role is simply to gather information and even though this can take time this important first step informs my service to families and community groups. The more I learn, the better I can serve.

So that’s it. As easy as it sounds, biting my tongue when I all I want to do is pitch the Library (capital L!) is one of the hardest things to do. But I have been pleasantly surprised when I occasionally manage this. The Storytime in the Park below was a recent success which blossomed from a relationship I built with a woman who runs a bilingual daycare. And of course my (ever chaotic) Mall Storytime. Here’s hoping they continue!

              Park StorytimeIMG_4107

Needs Based Service

One of the biggest ideas I took away from Patemen’s presentation at BCLC 2014 is the movement from outreach to community-led work is achieved when you put your community’s needs at the heart of service. Ken Williment writes about it here. When we start doing this our actions, policies and programs will be guided by these needs and not our deeply rooted ways-of-doing-things and professional and personal biases. After the initial information gathering and learning about community needs it’s time to use these insights to change the way you serve your community. This has manifested in small ways for me: adjusting how I approach groups, contributing to policies around cards for organizations and hopefully continuing an outdoor storytime for groups who cannot make it into my branch. For another look at this Lindsey bravely explores community responsive programs in her post Jumping Off the Holiday Ban-Wagon.

It is my humble opinion that children’s librarians are perfectly positioned to be leaders when it comes to community-led library service. We have the trust and respect of families in our communities, we are not afraid of falling flat on our faces and we’re flexible and like shaking things up every now and again. We’re surrounded by excellent examples of community-led work, though it may go by different names and have mentors like Angela, Marge and Mel to look up to. We’d like to start a conversation so please leave us a comment below: are you doing community-led work? What does it look like? What prevents you from doing this type of work in your community? What else would you like to learn about this type of work?

6 thoughts on “Community-Led Children’s Librarians

  1. Ok, the resources linked here are just GREAT. I am starting to work on this and what an excellent framework you’ve laid out. Thank you so much for this!

  2. I love this. I’m lucky to have a great organization where I am (Our Town Rocks: http://www.ourtownrocks.org/) that works with the library to promote literacy throughout our area. We have volunteer readers that visit local day cares, we sponsor a Fairy Tale Festival together, and we have monthly “pajama parties” where we have guest readers come in and read to a big group of kids in the evening. These events don’t take place at the library, but I think it’s important to realize that not all library events have to be within its walls. Our jobs is to push a love of reading and literacy to our patrons, whether they come in the doors or not. The more we can get them comfortable with us as librarians, the more likely they are to eventually join us in the children’s room for story time and crafts (or whatever else we happen to be offering!).

    1. Rachel, thanks for your words and sharing what rocks in your community 🙂 I loved your comments about when we’re seen outside library walls people are able to get comfortable with us and are more likely to come into our library spaces. Great point!

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