I was lucky enough to land my dream job four months after completing my library science degree. I had dreamed of being a children’s librarian since I was five years old and received my very own library card. I was thrilled to announce to the world that I was going to be the new “Children’s Services Coordinator” at my local library! I got a lot of questions from loved ones: “Wait – but didn’t you go to school to be the librarian?”
In my early tenure, I assumed this title was chosen to encompass all that I was expected to do in the library, in addition to providing the standard library services to children (Ex: managing staff schedules, attending county meetings as a library representative, collection management, etc.) I soon realized, though, that the title of “Coordinator” best represented what all of these tasks quickly enabled me to do: make connections between patrons and needed community resources.
Some examples of resources that I regularly refer both patrons and other agencies to include: various contacts in the school system, homeschooling groups, public health offices, local specialty businesses, crisis pregnancy center, food banks, and environmental agencies.
While I will admit that all of our communities and libraries are unique in the best manners to become effective community facilitators, here are some of my own tips for children’s services librarians for creating or strengthening community relationships that will ultimately better serve patrons.
1. Become an Engaged Community Member
This is probably something that you are already doing as part of your duties as a librarian. If not, it’s easy to plug in to your community quickly! Volunteer at community events as a library representative, join local committees, and make a point to follow local newspaper, radio, community events, and relevant Facebook groups.
2. Vocalize Struggles
After a few months on the job, I had become extremely frustrated at many failed attempts to make a connection in our school system’s central office. I finally mentioned this in my department recap in a board meeting, not laying blame on any one party, and one of our board members knew so-and-so who worked there and could stop in and put in a good word for the library. This simple act has opened so many doors for partnerships between our library system and the school system. Sharing what I thought of as my “failure” has led to years of invaluable collaborations. Be sure, though, when vocalizing struggles to always use a positive approach. Bashing another community member or group is never going to get you a good end result!
3. Make Yourself Available to Patrons
I believe that my most important facilitating work has come about during regular programs in our Children’s Department. We host a twice monthly early literacy play program, in which I do about 10 minutes of hands-on, focused program, and the rest of the hour is spent playing and socializing with our patrons. The other program in which I more often than not get to wear my facilitator hat is our twice monthly Lego Club. In this program, I set the kids up with all of their gear, give a challenge, then again, have the rest of the hour to socialize with patrons. In each of these situations, I receive many community type “reference” questions. I believe that I get these questions more often in these programs because the patrons are more comfortable approaching me while I’m in the program rather than in my office. I’ve also learned much about our community gatherings and opportunities in these programs while sharing information with patrons, which I very much believe is making me a better librarian.
4. Put Your Connections into Action
By becoming a more informed librarian/citizen, you will be able to quickly connect families in your library to other needed/wanted services. Obviously, setting up services for families is outside the scope of our role as librarians, but connecting patrons into the community is a valuable service that we can easily provide.
Why Work to Become a Community Facilitator?
Serving as a community facilitator will only strengthen your relationship and foster trust with patrons. It will also potentially open doors to future collaborations and prove commitment of the library to the community as a whole.
What are your thoughts on serving your community as a ‘facilitator’? What practices do you employ to help you better engage with your community?
Today’s blog post was written by Amanda Yother, the Children’s Services Coordinator at the Putnam County Library in Cookeville, TN on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee.