Planning Ahead for the Community
I was really impressed when Fallon Spangler described how her team of six at the Broken Hill City Library in New South Wales, Australia, pitches in, works together, and still has time to engage the community. This is what it’s all about. Our public libraries will never be perfectly staffed. We’ll never have all of the time in the world to do everything we want to do. But when we share responsibilities and remember that the communities we serve are the main focus, we can accomplish amazing, forward-thinking, and positive things.
YOU ARE A COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT LIBRARY TECHNICIAN. WHAT DOES YOUR DAY-TO-DAY WORK LOOK LIKE?
I oversee the planning and delivery of programs, events, and outreach services, as well as print and digital marketing on social media and our website. On an average day, I might be helping with customer service, planning an upcoming program or event, updating the library website, creating social media posts, selecting books for purchase, cataloging, filming for marketing or an online program, and editing photographs or video for the print and digital content.
HOW MUCH OF YOUR ROLE INVOLVES WORKING WITH PARTNERS OUTSIDE OF THE LIBRARY?
Working with partners occurs more often with one-off programs; for example, hearing-awareness workshops or events around special days or campaigns. Some of the challenges can be around communication, funding, and the available opportunities locally. Many city libraries host external workshops and authors; however, due to our location, the added costs often make this unfeasible. Partnerships can be a big-time commitment, but being able to collaborate and combine resources to bring something worthwhile to the community is a great payoff.
I recently worked on a collaborative writing competition with multiple partners where I utilized online forms and uploaded all submissions onto our website for public viewing and judging. Additionally, we’ve recently joined a New South Wales public library collaboration hosting online author events that we would normally be unable to provide for the community, which has been a great side benefit of the times!
WHAT IS THE OUTBACK LETTERBOX LIBRARY?
The Outback Letterbox Library is a free service that started in the 1970s and is operated through continual grant funding through the State Library of New South Wales, enabling Broken Hill City Library to provide library materials to people living on remote properties and townships. The service covers an approximately 200,000-square-kilometer (about a 77,220-square-mile) radius, bringing books to people who can’t visit the library often. Members can submit specific requests or genres they enjoy, and staffers select and pack materials to be delivered and returned via freight. Many members often visit the library when they get to town, and it’s a highlight to put a face to a person you’ve been communicating with and selecting books for.
Celebrating Our Collections
I’ve long been a fan of Stephanie Anderson’s work as assistant director of selection for BookOps, a library technical services organization shared by The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. I was also really impressed with Stephanie’s Main Street idea at Darien Library in Connecticut—it mashed together the best of the public library with the best of a retail bookstore.
LET’S GO BACK TO YOUR PAST WORK AT DARIEN LIBRARY. WHAT WAS YOUR APPROACH WITH THAT?
I was the head of readers’ advisory (RA). At that library, that made me the department head overseeing the RA desk, which performed both circulation and RA functions, as well as Main Street. Main Street is the first area you come to in that building, and the idea behind it is to make it easy for patrons to find something to read. In addition to an entire department of librarians trained in RA, that space has all the new books, special displays, staff picks, and so on. We know many adults don’t have time to browse the whole library, and also that most adults do want to read, so the idea is to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for them to find something.
This will look different in every community, but ultimately, I think using library space to celebrate collections is more important than ever. The limited amount of research we have on adult readers tells us a lot of interesting things. We know the median American adult reads four books a year. We know adult readers have lots of different motivations to read: out of social interest, out of personal identity, out of desire to learn. We know that nobody, even the most avid reader, has read even most of the books in any library building. We also know that even in so-called normal times, American adults are pressed for time, loaded with obligations, and under a lot of stress. For collections to be successful, RA and collection development must be hand in glove, and they must both be considered core services of the library, not luxuries or nice-to-haves.
WHAT ARE SOME TRENDS YOU SEE IN COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT?
Well, right now, of course, the big trend is finding ways to continue to increase access to digital collections, as many patrons can’t access our physical collections. And even when conditions change and more folks are able to come back to the physical library, this is likely to continue. The thing we don’t know is how permanently this will change patron behavior in the long run. We are keeping a very close eye on usage patterns.
The other trend, which is hopefully less of a trend and more of a permanent change to how we do our work, is a renewed emphasis on making our collections more diverse, inclusive, and reflective of our communities. This has been important to us for years, but we are doubling down on this commitment even in this time of uncertainty and reduced resources. It’s helpful that publishers are continuing to diversify their new releases, but we are looking beyond traditional publishing for further opportunities.
WHAT ARE SOME WORDS OF WISDOM THAT YOU WANT TO PASS ALONG TO LIBRARIANS?
Don’t assume that the only way to innovate in libraries is to add a new service. There are so many opportunities to be had in improving the services we already offer, and the patrons who depend on those services deserve our attention.
Also, let’s all stop saying “libraries are more than just books” as though books are somehow unimportant or embarrassing. Patrons don’t think that, and we do ourselves a disservice in communicating that message to them. To our communities, libraries are books, and lots of other things too, and that is a tremendous honor, if you ask me.