Tuesday 5 May 2015

Developing Community-Led Public Libraries

Finished April 20
Developing Community-Led Public Libraries: Evidence from the UK and Canada by John Pateman and Ken Williams

I've been immersed in this book for months as I determine how our library will be moving forward with this new model of service. The authors take a lot of their information from two large multiple library projects that focused on the community and its needs. In the UK, the Open to All? project focused on the issue of social exclusion and on creating library services that addressed the needs of specific communities. In Canada, the Working Together project involved Halifax, Regina, Vancouver, and Toronto Public Libraries and focused on understanding and developing library specific community development, learning about different approaches.
John Pateman's library experience is mostly in Britain, but he joined the Thunder Bay Public Library as its CEO a few years ago. He was heavily involved in the Open to All? project in the UK.
Ken Williment is a branch manager for Halifax Public Libraries, but he was the Community Development Manager during the Working Together project.
The book begins with an overview of the two projects, and a summary of the learnings from each. Each following chapters focuses on a different aspect of the learnings, and offers helpful hints on how to move forward for that particular learning, challenge, or aspect.
The first chapter talks about the variety of approaches that can be used to connect with the local community. Libraries have to figure out what approach will work for them and the community they are targeting.
The next topic is Needs Assessment and Research, which looks at how to get at the real needs of the community. The most important thing to remember here is that we aren't the experts on the needs of the community, the community is the expert. Often libraries go in with preconceived notions of what the community needs. This is not the way to develop a true partnership, nor is it a way to get at the real needs that libraries can help address. This may be one of the more difficult things to get our heads around, as it goes against decades of "how we do things." Needs will be specific to each community, and we have to recognize and respond to that, not focus on statistics and generalizations.
Which brings us to Library Image and Identity. How do we identify ourselves and how do others see us. Libraries are made up of parts that include the buildings we occupy, the staff that work for us, and the services we offer. We have to look closely at all these things and specifically at barriers these bring to our relationships with the community. Barriers may be institutional (hours, policies, signage, staff attitude, prescriptive collections), personal and social (literacy, low income, discrimination, self-esteem, housing), environmental (physical access, safety issues, isolation, transportation), or perceptional (ideas about library services, isolation, relevancy, technology fears). We have to look closely at these and try to eliminate them where we can.
The next chapter is a sort of bridge or continuum from traditional library services to the community-led model, explaining the differences between outreach, partnerships, community development, and true co-production. Many of us have the first two in some way, and it is understanding how these can help up move towards a greater integration with our communities, and where each type of activity has its place.
We then move to the role of technology in addressing social exclusion issues. This is another chapter that looks at common library assumptions and moves beyond them.
Following that the book addresses the provision of materials, a core service of libraries, and emphasizes the need to have the libraries step back and let the community determine the focus and makeup of the collections offered.
The next topic is library staff, what skills are needed, how we find staff, and how we training and develop the staff we have now to change to this new model of service. Included here is a useful appendix for library schools to help them develop appropriate courses to meet this new model so that new graduates are ready to hit the ground running.
The following chapter focuses on addressing social exclusion, and changing the focus of libraries to bring this issue back to the core of library services. This looks a strategy, and how libraries can focus their staffing, service structure, systems, policies and procedures, and values and culture to make the community needs the centre of what we do.
Of course, a big part of library service is measuring our success towards our mandate, and the next chapter focuses on how we create measurements, performance indicators, and evaluation systems that are meaningful. Once again this comes back to working with the community so that these are not set by the library, but by the community in partnership with us. There is also the need to continually adjust these as we learn from what we do, from the feedback we get. This is a movement away from quantitative indicators and statistics to the more difficult qualitative, impact, and outcome measures. How are we relevant to our community? And how do we continue to be relevant as the needs of the community change?
The last two chapters provide additional help in moving towards this new, necessary model for library service, offering a blueprint for change and a road map to how to proceed.
Now comes the difficult work of implementation, but many of us are looking hopefully forward with this model, and we can learn from each others' experiences as we continue to listen carefully to our communities and become more integral to them.


  1. Hi Shonna - thanks for the overview of our book. I hope it will prove helpful, along with the toolkit, in implementing a CL approach.

    My best
    Ken W

  2. I firmly believe this is the way for libraries to continue to stay relevant.