Community engagement #newlib #MOOC

It’s the end of Week Two of the New Librarianship Master Class, with all sorts of things being discussed, including a strong focus on Community.

I’ve been challenged this week to think about:

  • the pressure from communities to change/improve/invent a raft of new/different/other services,
  • the pressure to interact with learners within their chosen environment,
  • the pressure to participate in ways that don’t match the “rules & regulations” of the organisation.

This concept of community pressure is also related to scarcity/abundance. If options in a community are limited, then there may be increased pressure to be everything to everyone, and the community may demand a wider range of services than if there is a choice to access information & services in other ways.

We all face pressure from our communities. How we choose to engage with our communities, how we respond to that pressure, how we ignore that pressure, how we react to that pressure – these are the challenges we need to address.

For example, my local public library charges $2 per item for a reserve. When I added up how much it would cost me to reserve every copy of all the magazines that I like to read each month/quarter (I’m a complete magazine junkie so the list ran to almost 50 titles), it was looking like it was going to get mighty expensive. So I started looking for alternatives. I found that I could get a digital subscription for several of my favourite magazines for cheaper than it would cost me to pay for a year’s worth of reserves for the individual titles. Digital subscriptions are a great deal quicker, cheaper & easier than a print subscription, and also it was way easier than picking the public library option. No more waiting. No more traveling to the library to pick up my reserves.

So I paid for my own digital subscriptions instead of paying that money to my local library. I have made the choice to look wider than what was on offer at my public library. I could have exerted pressure on my local library to drop the reserve charges, but I didn’t. I withdrew my support instead.

I have also stopped borrowing DVDs from my public library. I prefer the choice & variety at my local specialist DVD store. Also, I know that they take care of their collections, and they offer better recommendations. Most times I am in there, we have way more interesting movie discussions than I do with any staff at my public library.

I’ve not exerted pressure on my local library. I have simply walked away to find better options. I was pretty confident that I would find a better option, but I hadn’t been pressured to look for one until now.

The only choice offered to me from my public library was: here is the service we offer, “pay $2 for a hold”, take it or leave it. I wasn’t offered an option to pay for an annual “reserve” subscription which meant that as soon as a new issue of a magazine was added to the collection, the system would automatically add my name to the holds list; I wasn’t offered the option to set up an alert so that I knew what the latest issue had arrived at the public library; I wasn’t offered the chance to pay for a premium hold (be the first on the list); I wasn’t offered a digital option. I’m interested in several of these possible options, but as yet, I haven’t found any public library that offers them. *sigh*

What actual choices do we offer our communities when they put pressure on us?

How often do we ever step outside our metaphorical four walls & actually have discussions with our existing members, our potential members, our no-longer members, and find out what they really think about the services & collections & spaces we have. Ask them what they want, explain why we can’t sometimes give them what they want (e.g. Zone restrictions on DVDs), invite them to be an integral part of the strategic planning process.

I’ve been watching with interest a number of libraries that refocus their gaze from collections to community engagement. They measure their metrics differently – it’s not all about circulation figures, door counts, self- issue figures, it’s about community engagement, it’s about conversations, it’s about the community creating their own knowledge, expanding their knowledge, sharing their knowledge. I’m also watching libraries who engage meaningfully with their communities in online space and in physical spaces. Conversations. Interactions. Discussions.

Pressure comes from our communities, and it also comes from within our institutions. However, by engaging in meaningful conversations, we can them start to identify which pressures are meaningful as well. It’s also okay to say no to the pressure to be all things to all people. Absolutely, let’s invite the conversations, and talk about the ideas, the options, the decisions. Instead of saying yes to everything, be selective. Make sure you involve the community in the discussions. It’s about community partnerships & strong networks.


2 thoughts on “Community engagement #newlib #MOOC

    • Thanks for your comment Paul. Sometimes it seems as though libraries spend more time measuring the tangible numbers (quantity), rather than the quality of our conversations, and yet, that can be what makes the actual difference to being the best that we can be. And I get it, it is easier to measure numbers rather than conversations.

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