Connecting to New Communities

Like many people, I recently moved. Not only did I move where I lived, I also changed where I work. I made the move from a really big city library to a small rural library. 

Starting out in or moving to a new library can be daunting, especially if it’s in a new geographical location. Not only do you have to learn new systems and policies but you have a whole new community to get to know. 

Regardless of your role in a library, getting to know your community is one of the most important things you can do. You need to connect to the people who live around your library so they know what is happening and they are invested and interested in using the library.

But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when deciding how to get to know your library users. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years. 

Ask your coworkers for help and tips. Chances are one or more of the library workers in your new library knows the community pretty well. Ask them about who uses your library and who doesn’t. If you can, get your coworkers to introduce you to regular patrons. Let them give you insight into your new library and area. 

Research the community online and in person. Get to know the local government, schools, and businesses. Introduce yourself through email, phone calls, and in person. Understand the population you are serving and their needs. 

Connecting to schools and daycares is one of the most important things youth services librarians can do. Sometimes this is harder than expected. Some schools are open to partnering regularly with libraries and others are hesitant. Schools and teachers are busier than ever but don’t give up on trying to connect with them. 

First try connecting with the school librarian if they have one. If not you can reach out to teachers, principals, counselors, and secretaries to help you get in. Emails and phone calls are usually good to set up an appointment to visit. Have a small speech prepared to let the person you are meeting with know how you want to work together and what you can offer them. Do not give up. Keep trying to connect and even do drop by visits if you are not hearing back from anyone. 

You can also regularly drop off your business card or calendar of events to schools. Writing a letter letting teachers know what services you offer in regards to class visits is really helpful to leave in their mailboxes with your contact information. 

Join local social media groups. This is a fairly easy way to see what’s going on in the community and get tapped into local events and interests. 

Table at local community events. This is one of the best ways to meet people in your community and spread the word about your library’s programs and services. Bring flyers, calendars, business cards, library card applications, and giveaways. 

Meet with other similar non-profit organizations. Ask them what they do in the community and how you can work together. Offer them help with their projects or offer your meeting room up for their use. If you can, try going to some meetings to introduce yourself including town board meetings, school boards, and Rotary Club meetings. 

Advertise in local newspapers or create newsletters or e-newsletters. You can add subscription sign ups on your website or social media. Use these as ways to advertise what you’re doing. 

Get out on the floor! Library workers have to juggle so many tasks including meetings and endless emails. But don’t forget to get out on the floor away from the office and desks. Walk around and introduce yourself to patrons. Strike up conversations and see what they are using the library for and what they’d like to see from the library. 

Add a physical or electronic suggestion box. This lets the community know you care about what they want and are seeking their input.

Drive through or walk through your community. See what’s in your community and where things are located. This will give you a better sense of the area and you’ll be able to connect with what people are talking about. 

Try to spend some of your down time exploring the area—go to restaurants, grocery stores, and local events. Obviously this is easier in a smaller area but as someone who worked in a large city for many years I can attest that the more people see you the more they recognize you as that “library” person. 

Always be friendly and open. Let schools and organizations know you are not competition but a potential partner! Offer to come to them and provide services or have them come to you–be flexible and accommodating. 

How else do you connect to a new community? What have you done that works well? Tell us in the comments below. 

Today’s blog post was written by Chelsea Arnold, Library Director at Bloomfield Public Library in Bloomfield, NY, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. 

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client and V. Outreach and Advocacy. 

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