Serving our unique communities

In an effort to drum up focus group participation for our strategic planning process, I wrote an Open Book column for the Arlington Advocate and the Robbins Library blog discussing how public libraries are unique from one another, and need to be unique to serve the specific needs of their communities: 

When I am traveling, whether around New England, across the country, or even internationally, one of my favorite things to do is visit the public library in the community I am visiting. I do this for a lot of reasons, sometimes to take advantage of free internet access, and sometimes to learn more about the place I am visiting. However, the main reason I visit these public libraries is because I am fascinated by how all libraries are so unique from one another in so many different ways. For example, you just never know what you will encounter inside a library. I will never forget when I visited the Provincetown Public Library for the first time and discovered a half scale replica of a fishing schooner inside!

Sometimes you will discover a library pet in residence, such as a cat, guinea pig, dwarf bunny, hermit crab, or fish. Public library buildings are often so interesting, and they vary greatly from one another. On one end of the spectrum, there is a refurbished 1960’s English telephone booth that has been converted into a library in Clinton Corners, New York. On the other is a former Walmart that has been converted into perhaps the largest single story public library in the country located in McAllen, Texas, complete with a full snack bar called “The Hungry Scholar”.

You can create a beautiful library out of an abandoned Walmart!

Many libraries have unique collections; items that various public libraries across the country circulate include such things as musical instruments, telescopes, cake pans, fishing gear, and even seeds. Think the only types of programming you will find at public libraries across the country are storytimes for children and book clubs for adults? Think again. From hog-butchering demonstrations to libraraoke (karaoke at the library) to competitive LEGO robotics competitions, there are certainly some unique programs you can discover at public libraries everywhere. Many public libraries offer services like technology help or job search assistance, but a growing number offer digital media labs where patrons can share and create videos, music, and other digital projects. Other public libraries have opened makerspaces, like the Westport Connecticut Public Library MakerSpace, where people can collaborate and create art and inventions using high-tech tools like 3D printers.

Oak Park Public Library has turned an abandoned library space into an “Idea Box”, which they describe as “space that each month provides a new and dynamic participatory community experience”.

Why are public libraries so unique from one another? Sometimes, it is out of necessity, but more often than not, public libraries create their uniqueness in order to best serve their unique communities. How do public libraries know how to serve their unique communities? Through learning about their communities by soliciting feedback and listening to the people in their communities. At both the Robbins Library and Fox Branch Library we always welcome feedback from our community, and we provide several ways for individuals to provide feedback. In fact, there have never been more ways for you to provide us feedback. Whether you want to come by and talk to us directly, give us a call, send us an e-mail, send us an instant chat message, post on our Facebook page, send us a tweet, or anonymously drop a comment into our suggestion box, you certainly have lots of options. Next week, we are providing another way for you to provide us your feedback, feedback which will help shape the future direction of our Libraries. As part of our strategic planning process, we are holding a series of focus groups next week on Monday, October 28th and Wednesday, October 30th. You can find more details on the times and locations of these focus groups here. Your participation in the focus groups next week would really help us better serve you in the future.

So please, consider taking a little time to help us out and provide your feedback on what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, and what we might do to improve. Maybe you think the library is perfect and doesn’t need to change anything at all, or maybe you think the library needs to improve by adding a seed lending collection and a full snack bar. Either way, we want your feedback! And remember, the next time you are traveling out of town, stop by the local public library and have a look around. You never know what you might discover!

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1book4summer: read, share, and discover great summer reads!

Today I want to share with you a project that I co-created with my colleagues: 1book4summer! And hopefully I can convince you to get involved!

Looking to take your summer reading program to a new level this year? Do you want to be part of a book group that your users can participate with wherever they are on the planet? Would you like to share your thoughts on great summer reads with others around the world or discover other great reading materials for yourself?

Check out 1book4summer! Inspired by Nancy Pearl’s “One Book” movement and Jeff Howe’s One Book, One Twitter and 1book140 Twitter book groups, 1book4summer is a global summer reading group which will vote to select a book to read this summer and discuss it entirely on Twitter. Additionally, participants will be able to share what they are reading at through an interactive map with others around the globe and help people discover other great reads by location.

How does 1book4summer work?

The 1book4summer team, consisting of some of the world’s finest librarians and booksellers, has narrowed it down to a shortlist of four novels that are in the running for the inaugural 1book4summer book selection. Voting on Twitter will begin on June 7, 2011 to select the book title. Voting will end on June 21, 2011 at Noon (EST) and the book title will be announced. Then, the real fun begins! Not only will participants be able to read and tweet all summer, but also they will be able to share their favorite titles from around the world at And for those avid readers looking for other books to read this summer, they can discover great, new summer reads at as well.

How can I participant in the book discussion?

When the discussion begins on June 21, it will be done entirely on Twitter. Dedicated hashtags will be used for each chapter. #1b4s_1 will be used for chapter 1, #1b4s_2 will be used for chapter 2, #1b4s_3 will be used for chapter 3, and so on. There is no set schedule and you can read and discuss the book as you’d like. There are no hard or fast rules, but please use the chapter hashtags to avoid any spoilers.

How can I share some of my favorite summer reads with everyone and find other great summer reads?

In addition to interacting with other 1book4summer participants through Twitter, visit to share your favorite summer reads and discover other great books by location through an interactive map.

Join the team!

Come join in on the fun this summer! Follow @1book4summer for updates and #1b4s for the discussion. Visit to share your favorite summer reads or to discover something new.  Become a fan of 1book4summer through our Facebook Page. Questions? Feel free to contact us through Twitter or e-mail us at 1book4summer at gmail dot com.

1book4summer logo designed by Jane Bleakley

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