Community-Led Librarianship: Resources for the Job-Seeker

by Elinor Crosby, Head Editor, INALJ Nova Scotia

Community-Led Librarianship: Resources for the Job-Seeker

elinorcrosby01According to Rangnathan’s fifth law, libraries are growing organisms. This is so relevant right now as more and more libraries and library systems are changing the way they serve their patrons. By placing more emphasis on giving patrons what they want and need and focusing less on what they perceive or assume their patrons need, libraries are evolving with the help of their communities.

This is understandably a hot topic in job-search circles, especially here in Canada, though also in the United States and Great Britain. Every country approaches it differently, as do individual library systems. I’m going to gather up a few of the Canadian resources and discuss their approaches, as well as link to a few more. We practice community-led librarianship in my library system, especially at the library I work at where we have a community librarian who is supposed to devote 30% of her time (averaging about three half days per week) to community-led development.

First up, you can’t talk about Community-led Librarianship without talking about John Pateman. He’s written a great book with Ken Willament: Developing Community-Led Public Libraries. John Pateman has worked in the public library system in Great Britain for over 30 years and is now the Chief Executive Officer for Thunder Bay Public Library Service in Ontario, Canada. He and Ken Willament worked on the Working Together project, which led to the fantastic Community-Led Libraries Toolkit, a useful read for anyone exploring this model of service for a job interview. Ken Willament now works as a Branch Manager at Halifax Public Libraries in Nova Scotia and blogs at Social Justice Librarian. I was lucky to hear Ken and a few community leaders speak about the Working Together project at the 2011 Canadian Library Association conference in Halifax a few years ago and I found it very inspiring.

John Pateman has been very influential on the service models of many Canadian public libraries. Besides his work with Halifax Public Libraries, he’s done a lot of work with Edmonton Public Library, whose service model motto is “We are bigger than our buildings.” EPL has developed their own toolkit, the Community-Led Service Philosophy Toolkit, as well as a handbook that explains how everyone in the system contributes to their service philosophy. Again, I was able to participate in a fantastic 3-part webinar put on by EPL last year, where they discussed their approach and then we were able to ask questions about it via the webinar software. EPL played host to John Pateman in June 2013, and the video of his visit is up on YouTube: Relationships: the heart of a community-led library service.

Community-led librarianship fits into the culture of every public library differently, so try thinking not about just what catchment  a particular library serves, but about the potential needs of the individual in the area. What works in one place, may not work in another. In fact, what works one year may not work the next, or it may be exactly what a community needs from their library for the long term.

There are many more libraries across Canada working on changing their service models. Perhaps the next place you apply to will ask you what you know about Community-Led librarianship! This is a hot topic in the library world, as well as a fantastic service philosophy.

Check out the Canadian Library Association (CLA), which has a Community-Led Service Network with a great list of resources to peruse. Also take a look at the ALA and their Libraries Transforming Communities page.


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