On a recent visit to Vancouver Island I had the opportunity to visit a wonderful little library that takes the community-led library approach to a whole new level.
The community of Nanoose Bay is located between the larger communities of Parksville and Nanaimo, and is home to about 5,000 people. In 1974, a local resident donated his personal collection of 1000+ books to the community, and the Nanoose Bay Community Library Center was born. The library is run entirely by volunteers, who catalogue and shelve the collection, purchase new titles (a volunteer told me that they add on average 60 titles to their collection every month, through purchases and donations), process circulation and put on several major fundraisers every year. Members pay a $6 annual fee to join, and can borrow from a diverse collection which includes a range of fiction and non-fiction titles.
The library is housed in an absolutely adorable log house, and offers a sweet party space in the back that is perfect for community celebrations and events.
The Nanoose Bay Community Library Center is a great example of what can happen when people band together to create a meaningful resource that fills in need in their community. It’s also pretty darn adorable.
People who argue that libraries have no role in an increasingly-digital society cannot possible have been in a library recently.
“I need your help”, a man said to me recently, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” The man had lost something with great sentimental value, and was hoping someone in the neighborhood might have found it. He wanted to make a poster, but didn’t have access to a computer at home. The man had never learned to type or to use a mouse and admitted to being intimidated by technology.
Here at the library the man was able to use a computer for free, print for a minimal fee, and get one-to-one assistance navigating the computer and formatting a document in a word processor. The man left the library with an armful of posters that will hopefully help him reconnect with his precious lost possession, as well as a bit more experience and confidence using a computer.
If there were no libraries, where could this patron have gotten the resources and support he needed, and from an organization that asked for nothing in return? The more dependent on technology societies become, the greater the risk becomes that vulnerable people will fall through the cracks and be denied access to this technology. We need computers to check our bank accounts, apply for social assistance, or find the address of a health clinic. Without access to a computer in the home, many people depend on the library as their digital lifeline, keeping them connected to the digital world.
But having access to a computer isn’t enough – one must know how to use the technology in order to unlock its power. It wasn’t enough for the library to provide this patron with access to a computer – he needed support and guidance from a skilled, experienced professional in order to use the computer to achieve his goal.
I know that everything I’m saying has been said before, and more eloquently, by far brighter minds than me. But my interaction with this patron just reinforced everything I believe so strongly in – that technology is a tool that is only valuable to individuals when it is freely accessible and accompanied by guidance and support.
And so endeth the lesson!
To survive and thrive as valid institutions in the 21st century, libraries need to entrench themselves in their communities, and outreach plays an important role in this. I wouldn’t call myself a library outreach veteran by any means, but I have had the opportunity to get out in the community on a number of occassions. I regularly co-facilitate an adapted story time at a community health center, working with a medical professional to support the early literacy needs of a diverse group of children. I have also participated in a number of different community special events and festivals, including the Surrey Fusion Fest this past July (see that picture above!).
Special events and festivals are a great opportunity for libraries to market themselves and promote their programs and services, but they are certainly a different kettle of fish, and a major departure from the traditional library space! Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the past few months that might help make your festival experiences the best they can be!
Dress for Success
- Wear comfortable shoes. It may sound obvious, but it’s worth repeating. You will be on your feet. A lot. So wear comfortable shoes.
- Dress for your audience. Representing the library at a chamber of commerce event? You might want to dress up a bit. Representing the library at Storyville in the park for two full days? Clothes with stretch are where it’s at. When in doubt, try for a look that is both professional and approachable. You want to look professional enough that people take you seriously, but at the same time you want people to feel comfortable enough to approach you.
Fuel and Hydration
Odds are, you will be talking a lot and moving around a lot. Make sure you have a big bottle of water handy, and stuff your pockets with some snacks to keep your energy level up. Again, it sounds obvious, but it’s worth repeating.
Check Your Self-Consciousness at the Door
- Sometimes connecting with the community means going outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes it means singing in front of large audiences, or wearing unflattering staff t-shirts (lime green? Really?). Other times you might interact with creepy mascots, pass out brochures to endless streams of festival-goers, motivate bored volunteers or give speeches into echoing microphones. If you’re a naturally outgoing, fearless person, none of this will phase you. But a lot of us who went into library work tend to be a bit more on the introverted side. To really get the most out of working a festival, you might just have to fake it ’till you make it, and embrace your inner extrovert (this is definitely a practice-makes-perfect situation!). Take a deep breath, and remember that you could be stuck inside a stuffy office typing away at a cubicle or doing some other boring old job, instead of helping make a difference in your community (even if it means wearing a very, very unflattering staff baseball cap). After all, how many people get paid to tell stories, sing songs, play with puppets, or hang out with a Lego Certified Professional?