At the Changing Times, Inspiring Libraries summit in December, David Lankes told us that “a library shapes itself around the community, not the other way around.” The idea is for the library to figure out the priorities of the greater community, then work toward meeting them. Rather than an internal focus on tweaking library services, the orientation is on the needs of the community.
I saw this in action the other day at the Richmond Public Library. First thing I saw as I walked through the front door was a large sign letting me know about the family events that will be happening at the library on Family Day, February 11, BC’s new statutory holiday. The library will be open and buzzing with activity on Family Day. After all, most families will be in town that weekend, looking to catch up, connect and enjoy the extra day off work and school.
Given that libraries are traditionally closed on statutory holidays, it couldn’t have been easy for the staff to go against tradition and agree to this experiment. So I particularly want to applaud the staff of the Richmond Public Library for opening themselves up to providing a place for their community to enjoy Family Day. For seeing the library as an important community platform. For considering the idea of the library being “a place for radical positive change for community.” By allowing communities to connect with each other. By providing a dynamic place for families to be together on Family Day.
I was at Richmond Public Library to attend an important event. On January 25, Family Literacy Day was proclaimed and celebrated with kids, politicians, librarians and educators coming together at the Richmond Library. Additionally, to support a focused effort to support early readers through the Changing Results for Young Readers initiative, the event featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Richmond’s new collection of 3,200 carefully selected “best books” for young readers.
Talk about having a bigger vision for libraries! This library inspires in its support of a school-based initiative. It aspires to be as plugged in to the needs of its community as it can. It responds, it innovates. It’s willing to try new things and venture into new territory.
They are taking what Lankes refers to as a “participatory worldview” – seeing the community, not the books, as the collection.
Thinking about the radical idea of opening the library up on a statutory holiday, a line from Mahatma Gandhi comes to mind: “Action expresses priorities.” If the community, rather than books, is the collection, are decisions regarding resources and priorities made through a community centric lens? Do library members feel a strong sense of co-ownership of the library as their facility, a reflection of their community, a place where people can actively participate, share their expertise, have a voice and make a difference?
I frequently find inspiring approaches and innovative practices when I visit libraries, just as I did at Richmond that day. The idea of trying something new, doing something in a different way, and seeking to learn from the experience is the sign of a healthy, evolving institution. Libraries are in an exciting time of experimentation and innovation as they seek to remain relevant for their communities.
Data will tell the story of whether the Richmond community needed their library on February 11. And whether the community needed the new early readers collection.
And we will all learn from the experiments.
The library as an aspirational place? So long as it shapes itself around the community and supports the aspirations of its residents, the library will remain vibrant, relevant and connected.