Library Life or Questions Your Professor didn't Prepare You For

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Serving the Underserved or, If You Build it and They Can’t Come

Although most people, if you were to ask them, still think of the library as a physical place, with the advent of e-materials and streaming services, this has long since stopped being the case.  Thanks to the abundance of digital media (despite the big five still rigging the license agreements), you can visit the library anytime you like: from home, when you’re out on a walk, or while you’re in your car (although the latter isn’t something I’d recommend).

However, there are still a number of areas that are what are referred to as “book deserts”.  A book desert can be roughly defined as an area, often low-income although this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in the inner-city, where there is no libraries, book stores, and in some instances, even the school may not have a library.  As a librarian, I view my role as not just helping patrons find materials they would enjoy or instructing them in using the studio (which is way more fun that work should be), but as someone who provides the resources to help the community to be economically competitive.  That’s why the Little Free Library program caught my eye.

The Little Free Library program was begun in 2009 by Todd Bol as a tribute to his mother, a school teacher who loved reading.  From there it grew, getting support from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, as of 2015 there are now over 25,000 Little Free Libraries across the world, from inner-city areas in the U.S. to rural areas in Pakistan.  I personally think that this is an amazing way to not only provide services to under-served communities, but as a way to form a relationship with communities that the library might not otherwise interact with!  Even better, in late 2012 the Internal Revenue Service granted tax-exempt status, making it even easier to set these up!

Beyond the Little Free Library program, there are a number of resources for librarians looking for ways to serve the underserved:

Officeala_logo for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS) – As always, the ALA is already ahead of the game and has an office looking into different ways to serve various population, including individuals in the LGBT community, persons of color, individuals living in rural areas, and non-readers. The site includes a list of current OLOS Initiatives & Projects, contact information for the OLOS’s various committees, as well as a great tool kit and blog.

Capture2Public Libraries Online & American Libraries – Professional publications often have great articles on providing services to underserved communities, as well as information about additional resources, grant opportunities, and useful statistics and trends.

Despite the fact that we’re no longer confined to our brick and mortar buildings, getting out into the community is just as important as ever, if not more so.  Being seen, making those personal connections, and providing services to communities, even if it is just supplying them with books, is extremely important, and something that is eminently doable.  So get out there, find out who isn’t getting the services they need, and show them just how awesome the library can be!

Also: We librarians are a cunning, imaginative lot, so let me know what your libraries are doing or any ideas you have for reaching out to under-served communities!

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This entry was posted on May 26, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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