When I was appointed to my first committee (Library Services to Special Population Children and Their Caregivers), I was ecstatic. When I found out I would need to blog about this topic I was panicked. Just this year I completed my MLS and started my first job as a children’s librarian. I was worried because I didn’t think I had anything of value to share. I brought my woes to my supervisor, who encouraged me to write from the perspective of a new librarian.
So, if you’re a new librarian (congrats on landing that job!) and you want to improve/create services for special populations, here are some questions to get you started. There are many special populations to consider, but don’t feel like you have to tackle all of them at once. Make changes gradually so you have the flexibility to modify the services as you receive feedback from users. You also want to have the energy, staff, and resources to continue a service, so don’t overwhelm yourself.
- What are the special populations in my area?
First, identify the special populations in your community by looking at demographics and being observant when you do outreach at schools, community centers, etc. Check out Amy Johnson’s blog post, “Serving Special Population Children in the Library…How Do We Get Started?”, for ideas on how to identify and connect with special population children.
- Is there a way to make current services more welcoming to special populations?
Are there obstacles that prevent certain populations from using services? Is there a better time, location, or method? Sometimes a small modification is as effective (not to mention time- and labor-saving) as creating a whole new service. Additionally, many users don’t want to be singled out as different. Sometimes it’s better to create an inclusive service with flexibility rather than a specialized exclusive service.
- Are there community organizations you can partner with to better serve special populations?
Network with community organizations that have a strong connection to a specific population. In addition to gaining the trust of the community through association, organizations often have resources (websites, print materials, knowledgeable people) that can be helpful as you develop services.
- What’s in your collection?
Do you have materials that represent special populations? Are these materials circulating? Create book lists and include materials in displays, storytimes, book clubs.
- What are other libraries doing?
No need to reinvent the wheel! Get the creative juices flowing by gathering ideas from other libraries and librarians. Search “Special Populations” or a specific population here on the ALSC Blog. Send out a query though the ALSC Listserv to get in touch with other librarians. Evaluate the relevance of these ideas with your community in mind.
I hope thinking about these five questions makes the idea of serving special populations less daunting. Remember, nothing is set in stone. Give your service a chance to become established, but don’t shy away from making changes as you work out kinks and receive feedback.
Amy recently finished her MLS at Texas Woman’s University and is currently a children’s librarian at the Denver Public Library. She is always on the look out for creative ways to incorporate the arts into children’s services and programming to extend books beyond the page. Check out Amy’s blog: http://chapterbookexplorer.blogspot.com/
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.