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”.
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!