Reading about interesting library programs and services always inspires me. The ones I like best challenge my understanding of what libraries are and what they can do. So this month, I want to highlight a number of library offerings that have caught my attention.
My Librarian, Multnomah County, OR
What a great way to highlight the value of Multnomah County Library’s librarians and to facilitate the creation of personal connections. The page describing this service is easy to use and attractive, and patrons can choose among a variety of ways to interact with their librarian: via email, phone, chat, video chat, or in person. I love the idea of having a personal librarian guide helping people navigate the intricacies of our institutions.
In these programs, folks cook out of a selected cookbook and come together to share and discuss the food. Full disclosure: I probably like these programs because I love to eat. There’s more to it, though. These programs are a great example of adding value to books and creating an experience around them. Circulating cookbooks is great, but adding this sort of experiential and social value layers on another dimension that can enrich some people’s lives. I’d love to hear of a library taking this idea to the next level and hosting the actual cooking, too.
Literary Lots, Cleveland PL
Last summer, the Cleveland Public Library partnered with a number of organizations to transform vacant and underused properties into spaces from children’s books. Amazing! They fundraised through Kickstarter, and the result was “a transformative experience that combines creative land reuse, artist engagement, youth education, and urban renewal.” This is an interesting extension of a classic library service: story time. What other library classics can we use as the kernel for fresh ideas?
Artist and Musician Spaces
Libraries encourage creativity, and they should also encourage creation. The Red Hook and Williamsburg branches of the Brooklyn Public Library will soon have visual arts and performance spaces for rent. A dance company renting one of the spots will remunerate the library with 100 hours of performance. Last summer’s rap sensation Chance the Rapper honed his skills at Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia. I hope we can have even more artists mentioning the library in their performances.
People without homes have just as much of a right to use the library as people with homes. While this is an easy enough statement to make, putting the idea into practice doesn’t always play out as smoothly. The American Library Association has a list of various libraries working to reduce homelessness, and while I think this is a noble goal in and of itself, what I want to highlight here is the deep level of thinking about the issue that led these libraries to implement programs. Attempting to facilitate harmonious library use by relying solely on regulatory measures often leads to an antagonistic dynamic. And that’s no good for anyone. Instead, these libraries aim to go beyond dealing with symptoms and go to the root of the issue. Libraries should spend time thinking hard at this level for everything they do, whether it is education or entertainment.
Are these ideas worth copying? I think so, but remember: no library program or service should be duplicated just because another library is doing it. Above all, new ideas are worth pursuing only if they’ll solve the right problems for your community.