As most of you know, the public library is an information center providing resources that the community needs and wants. To know exactly what the community needs and wants the library relies on comment cards, conducts online surveys, and closely follows local issues and trends. But what if there are no customers to poll, no users for librarians to have a discussion with? That’s exactly the situation that my library system is facing, because we are building a library where there has never been one (for many, many miles) and, therefore, there are no statistics, surveys, or discussions to shape our collection, preliminary programming, or resource needs. Luckily, we have already begun holding conversations and establishing relationships with groups that are helping us learn about the community. When we open our doors next spring, there’ll be no doubt that we know the community, its needs and wants, and how we can deliver both to it.
Friends of the Library
So far, the most inspiring group we’ve worked with is the Friends of the Library, which has been an established group for nearly 10 years. It lobbied county administrators and residents urging them to support a new library. Once the bond was passed, it hosted silent auctions, book sales, and family fun walks to raise funds for resources and scholarships. Partnering with them is critical to our success, because they’ve helped us learn about the local community’s interests and issues, including such topics as new schools and future construction projects.
Being a teen librarian, one of my main needs from the Friends is financial support for teen programs. Our large-scale programs, such as the annual AnimeCon and summer reading, are paid for by budgets set at the administration level, but small (though significant!) programs such as the book club and teen advisory board, as well as prizes for gaming tournaments and materials for craft programs, rely on the Friends for financial support. The Friends are supportive of teen services, but I still need to make a case for why the teen services department deserves their hard-earned funds. When the time comes to request funds, I plan to tell them about the conversations I’ve had with educators, parents, and mostly importantly, teens themselves, who have told me what they need and want from their new library.
One of our Friends is a volunteer in the public school system and used that relationship to set up a meeting for us with local school librarians. Though not all schools in our jurisdiction were represented, the topics we discussed at the meeting resonated with all of them; we talked about sharing materials, providing space for student-to-student tutoring, in-school visits by librarians, field trips to the library, and getting library cards into the hands of students.
One teen-specific topic we discussed was the last-minute rush to complete the school’s summer reading assignment, when we inevitably run out of assigned books. I advised the librarians to work with teachers to get the list to us as soon as it’s finalized, so come August, we’ll have the books that their kids need. We also discussed an idea to reduce the physical stress on students: lending textbooks to the library to shelve in our reference collection or in our teen center so that kids won’t have to lug those heavy tomes home every night. Sadly, this argument is an age-old one, and it’s usually rejected because of the likelihood that very expensive textbooks may be stolen. Even some colleges and universities refuse to lend textbooks to their students, for fear of never seeing the books again. But the conversation is one worth having, especially if the outcome will benefit teens.
Of course, these partnerships and conversations won’t end when we open our library. Educators have unique perspectives on teens’ needs, and we need to stay in touch with them to understand and respond to those needs.
This article was featured in School Library Journal's SLJTeen enewsletter. Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month for free.