Libraries often need to overcome barriers in order to provide services to those who need them most, but how?
There’s no specific answer that will work for every library, so instead we suggest focusing on the idea of planning library services as a growing experience. By this we mean that success is easier to find when we consider the uniqueness of our individual communities and tailor our offerings accordingly, essentially growing our offered services to be more of what our communities want, as opposed to planning exclusively around what we might think they need.
The suggestions below include specific examples of ways to employ this mindset, and we hope that they can aid other youth services professionals (especially those looking to reach underserved families) in their planning process.
Research and Repeat
Growing with your community involves research, and lots of it! Luckily, research includes everything from sitting down at a computer and checking out your town’s demographics, to going out into your community and learning about needs through more organic methods. When working with partners or seeking new collaborations, asking more questions about their work or impact can help uncover problems families are having that you may not have been aware of. Before and after conducting a program is also a great time to chat with your families directly, and these conversations often lead to discoveries of other problems your patrons might be having.
No matter how you research, the important thing to note is that the research process never fully stops. Every interaction has the potential to help you learn more about services your patrons could benefit from, and we definitely recommend writing down your observations to make it easier to find trends.
Offer Multilingual Services
Multilingual services in libraries play a crucial role in supporting diverse communities and ensuring equal access to information for individuals with varying language needs. These services can be designed to assist patrons who may have limited proficiency in the local language or who prefer to access materials in their native language. This can include bilingual staff, translated materials, and language learning resources.
There is also the option to have language specific programs and events such as, for example, a first time home buyers program in Haitian Creole, which our co-author Georgette Spratling has met success with. Other possibilities include multilingual technology and digital services where libraries can provide access to computers, internet, and digital resources in multiple languages. You may also want to think about offering language options on your library’s websites, online catalogs, and electronic databases to enhance user experience and facilitate information retrieval.
Conduct Outreach Programs
Take the library beyond its physical location by organizing outreach programs in partnership with schools, community centers, and other organizations. This can include a book vending machine in an area where the library is not accessible, library field trips during a time where there is no school (i.e. Teachers planning day that will benefit parents and students and create a great cultural experience for those who would not have had the opportunity otherwise), and taking your Summer Reading programs to surrounding schools to promote summer engagement, as well as inviting surrounding camps to the library during the summer for any shows that your library may be offering.
Focus on Collaborative Initiatives
One of the easiest and most economic ways to grow your library’s programs are collaborative initiatives. Partner with local businesses, nonprofits, and educational institutions to provide joint programs and services. Collaborations can range from hosting workshops such as first time homebuyer programs, hosting book signings for new local authors, hosting outside youth programs such as girl/boy scouts meetings, and lectures sharing resources and expertise. The potential cost for these types of programming are primarily space and time, and we encourage you to ask your colleagues for help with this aspect where needed.
Growing with your community in library services involves actively engaging with the community and adapting library offerings to meet evolving needs. It will take some boots-on-the-ground work, but if you’re reading this, in our opinion, it means you are strapping up your laces! By implementing any of the above strategies, libraries can cultivate a strong sense of community ownership and ensure their services remain relevant and valuable to the evolving needs of the people they serve.
Georgette Spratling is a Library Manager, Youth Services Librarian, and Program Coordinator for the North Miami Public Library, and is a member of ALSC’s Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers Committee. All views in this blog post are her own.
Ewa Wojciechowska is a Youth Services Librarian at the New Castle Public Library in Delaware and a member of ALSC’s Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers Committee. All views in this blog post are her own.