Back in March I went to my very first PLA Conference. If you’re like me, you were wishing you could clone yourself to get to more presentations and were frustrated more than once at not being able to get into a room because of those pesky fire codes. Fortunately they weren’t always looking.
If you were there you probably noticed a LOT of programs about community involvement. We all think of the public library as a vital cornerstone of society, but there’s no better way of getting that point across than getting out of the library and into the community.
Humans are social creatures. We like to gather in groups and associations, clubs and boards. While making individual visitors to your library feel welcome is important, reaching out to organizations and their leadership is a great way to maximize the effectiveness of limited staff while engaging your community. For example, Galston, et al. (including Amy Long and Elizabeth Huber who had a great presentation on this at PLA) described in American Libraries how this type of community engagement can make the library truly more vital. Critical here is that it’s not a one-way street and it’s important to keep in mind potential benefits to both your library and the organization you approach. If you see none it’s probably not a good match. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t review that potential relationship later, of course.
A few years ago our library also began stressing engagement and it has really paid off. Back in late November, a local group called the Lancaster County Community Foundation offered up to $250,000 in matching funds to any participating local 501(c)3 for donations over $25 made during a 24-hour period on November 30 – an event known as Extraordinary Give. We had precious little time to prepare special programs and the like, but out of roughly 192 organizations that participated we were 6th in total number of donations, and not far behind that in overall dollar amount (more than $23,000). Although it’s difficult to say how much of that was a direct result of our efforts at relationship-building, it was an incredibly encouraging sign of support within the community and proof of just how important that relationship is.
As we begin the New Year I hope you too are able build solid partnerships with other organizations to help build your shared community.