February 17, 2018

Annette DeFaveri | Movers & Shakers 2006

Social Inclusion


One might not have expected Annette DeFaveri to become a librarian. She grew up in an Italian immigrant family that valued books but ‘did not use or feel welcome at the library,’ she says. ‘Libraries were for smart, educated people and not for working people.’

Before she got her MLIS, DeFaveri worked as a freelance researcher for women’s centers, employment agencies, and disability support groups, which helped her understand that voiceless people ‘are not looking for people to speak for them but for ways to speak for themselves.’

Her background made her understand that marketing was not going to help librarians reach the socially excluded. ‘Socially excluded people know about the library,’ she says. ‘What they know is that the library makes them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.’ DeFaveri’s mission is to make librarians understand ‘the systemic barriers that keep [the socially excluded] from using the library.’

After organizing what British Columbia’s director of library services Maureen Woods calls ‘the groundbreaking Vancouver Public Library (VPL) Book Camp,’ where children spend a week writing and talking with Canadian YA authors, DeFaveri became VPL’s first community development librarian. She was one of several librarians hired for the multiyear Working Together Project, in which four Canadian city libraries used community development methods to work with the socially excluded; within a year she became the project’s national coordinator.

Working with residents of a Vancouver halfway house, DeFaveri had discovered that the men wanted to learn computer skills but were unresponsive to formal programs. ‘After much trial and error,’ she says, she ‘developed an ‘Open House’ approach,’ setting up coffee and donuts and a laptop in the halfway house’s dining room and answering the men’s questions as they played with the computer. Their increasing ease with the computer led to requests for additional training. ‘Finally, we would meet them at the local library branch for Internet training, to meet the branch staff, and to get acquainted with other resources the library has to offer.’

The message she is committed to spreading, through conference presentations and articles, is this: ‘Serving socially excluded communities begins with building relationships.’ Don’t tell them what the library can do for them, she says. Ask them what they want from the library. Then build programs and services to respond to those needs.

It may not be as comfortable as serving the people we’ve always served – ‘the people who look and act like us,’ she says, but ‘if libraries are indeed society’s most egalitarian institution, we must become egalitarian.’


Current Position National Coordinator, Working Together Project, Canada
Degrees MLIS, University of British Columbia, 2002