Guest presenters at this fall’s DLIS Symposium made a point to broaden the scope of community, highlighting the usefulness, resourcefulness and inherent value of community members to all libraries. The first panel discussion of public librarians focused on connecting communities through training collaboration and service. Speaking first in turns and then together as a group, these librarians could not emphasize enough the means with which the library is a foundation of civic engagement within the community.
The guest panel this semester included Michael Morea, Director of the Gold Coast Public Library; Jaime Papandrea, Director of the Brookhaven Free Library and Michele Echols, Community Library Manager of the South Hollis Queens Library Branch.
Morea spoke of the intimate connection between his library and the small community it serves. The library is the community, he says, and as such “everyone is aware of what we do and how we do it.” The Gold Coast Library community created the library’s logo and slogan itself. Morea stressed a big problem with public libraries is that it knows how to purchase and use important services, but the library often forgets to inform the community why the library purchased the service and how to use it to enrich lives in the community. To combat this issue at his library, the Gold Coast Library maintains active communication through extensive transparent outreach on multiple web and paper-based services.
Papandrea stressed means to sell library services to the community. “We are selling a valuable product,” she said, “we have value to bring to the community.” Libraries set a standard as a role model for the community. Papandrea emphasized that librarians must remain passionate about what is sold: valuable skills to serve the community, taking the judgment out of library service. She also noted a need to make the community recognize the library’s concern for the greater good by attending community events as a member, not as a librarian, and creating unconventional community partnerships through outreach. Overall, Papandrea promotes libraries with policies that bring the public into the building, but also go out and actively participate in the community.
Echols emphasized building a relationship with the community by leaving the desk. Your community will be underserved if you believe the role of today’s librarian includes sitting behind the desk waiting for the community to come to you, she said. Speaking from personal experience, Echols stated that underserved populations need guidance and support from someone that can be viewed as both an information and a life resource. Librarians in underserved communities often act as social workers to fulfill the information needs of community members needing help obtaining government assistance. Echols demonstrated the skills often attributed to social workers, are inherent in librarians as well: librarians are analytical, collaborative and communicative; all skills with which we as librarians engage and help the community.
The overall theme of this panel discussion was that a librarian’s passion for lifelong learning reflects on the community by working together to improve the daily lives of every member. Your library community literally invests in the future of the library and you as a librarian; so never neglect your civic duty to enrich and improve the community you serve.