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IAmRUSA Interviewee for the Week of March 10th is
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I'm Julie Biando Edwards and I am currently the Ethnic Studies Librarian & Multicultural Coordinator at the Mansfield Library in Missoula, Montana. I graduated from the GSLIS program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2005 and also have an MA in English from UCONN. I've worked at public and academic libraries in Wyoming, Massachusetts, and Montana. I love librarianship and I am a public librarian at heart. I'm interested in the ways in which libraries can move beyond being places to "access information" to being places that shape and influence their communities and help build individual and community assets in new and interesting ways. I just wrote a book on this topic with two colleagues in the public library world. Transforming Libraries, Building Communities: The Community Centered Library was published in 2013.
I live in a little house by a mountain in Montana with my husband and my dog. When I'm not in the library I enjoy hiking and backpacking, running, yoga, reading, crocheting, baking and spending time with my family. I love to travel and have been to a dozen countries, including a recent amazing trip to Southeast Asia.
I'm excited to be involved with IAmRUSA and look forward to chatting with you!
Julie Biando Edwards Assistant Professor, Ethnic Studies Librarian & Multicultural Coordinator Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library - University of Montana.
Thanks so much for taking part in the IAmRUSA project; I've got two quick questions for you. First of all, looking at the idea of transforming public libraries into more community-focused institutions, could you give a couple easy tips for public libraries starting out on this sort of process?
Secondly, may I ask which order you got your two masters degrees in? Was there much space in between?
Kirk Macleod, MLIS Candidate
University of Alberta
Hi Kirk -
Good questions! I'll take the easy one first -- my first masters was in English, which I completed in 2002. I began working in a public library in Wyoming, did that for a year and then started my MLIS program and graduated from that in 2005 - so there wasn't much of a gap.
In terms of tips for getting started in becoming a really community centered library I'd recommend the following:
Take a look at your community -- who are your patrons, and who AREN'T you seeing in the library? Do your collections reflect your community? Does your programming? See if what you are offering is what your community needs and wants.
I think that librarians are often some of the first to know what a community's needs are, because patrons talk with us. So we might see some real social needs that aren't being met elsewhere in the community - pay attention to these, even if they don't seem to have much to do with traditional library services. My former public library started a successful summer food program because librarians noticed that children in the community weren't eating during the day. Is this a library need? No, but it is a community need, and librarians knew that they could address it in collaborative and creative ways. Things like this help situate the library in the community in new, non-traditional ways.
Philosophically, this means thinking beyond information. I think we sometimes tend to think of information as an end in itself, when we should be thinking about it as a means to an end -- how does the information we provide our patrons help them build individual assets and strengths? How do the services we provide help our communities build their assets? Starting to think this way, to ask these questions, will help us consider new ways we can act in our communities.
A few concrete things:
1. As much as you can, get out of the library. Meet with city officials, schools, churches, agencies, businesses -- anyone who might be a potential partner for library services and programs. Sit on important committees and task forces and working groups in your community, even if they don't have anything to do with the traditional library role.
2. Set aside programming money - even if it is only a few hundred dollars. Try to set something aside to develop and implement programming that will help raise the profile of your library.
3. Network with other librarians - find out what they're doing, borrow their ideas, learn from their failures, and try new things.
4. Be willing to step into new roles. The summer foods program fed hundreds of kids who otherwise weren't eating lunch. That means that hundreds of kids were in the library in the summer. Just bringing these patrons into the building was a huge achievement - it didn't matter if they were checking out books or games or music or anything: they were there, and we welcomed them and let them know that there was a place for them in the community. Were we meeting their information needs or providing them access to information? Not necessarily, but we were establishing the library as a place central to the community in new ways and encouraging the community to think of us in new ways.
So - a question for all of you: How do you make your library community centered?
Excellent advice, Julie. Some of you have seen my library from last week's video -- and we really are a center on campus. Having a relatively new building and a Starbucks helps, but it is offering services that gets people to come to the library over and over again. I love your summer food program idea -- which provides a basic that makes a better community.
My recommendation for a community-centered library is simple -- get involved in your community. Go to events and meetings. Have library staff on committees -- and not just the library committee. Use the library to host those events and meetings.
Every community is different, so know what types of things people in your community value and become part of it. On my campus, sports is a big deal -- so I go to lots of sporting events (and that is definitely not a hardship assignment for me!). Be a part of the big events and you will meet people and be able to share with them what your library can do. Once you get started, you will have people coming to you wanted for you to be involved. To me, that is the sign of success and where you want to be in terms of community involvement.
Great points David -- especially that being community centered isn't just the responsibility of public libraries! Academic libraries have a role to play here too - and I think we can learn a LOT from our public library colleagues!
Check out this very interesting report on public library engagement from Pew Research Center: