Monthly Archives: December 2010

Addressing Perceived Barriers to Implementation: Community Led Libraries

Community led service planning is a relatively new perspective and way of doing library work.  Like all new approaches to work, the newness implies and necessitates change.  Like all change processes, questions linger about the impact of the change on work.

A Community Led approach to library work really isn’t that radical.  One perspective, is that it can be viewed as additional skill sets which can be drawn upon when developing and delivering programs and services, where the community (the people we are meant to serve) are engaged in the process (inside and outside the library) – thus making sure what libraries do is relevant to the community.

A number of possible rationales can be put forward for not using a community led approach in libraries.  Each of these concerns are legitimate, and need to be addressed either by the system, a branch or a service area – when there is a desire to truly include the community in service development.

At this point I have identified three broad thematic issues which could be raised to impede the implementing this approach.  They include 1. Resources, 2. The Role of Library Services, and 3. The Unknown.


  • Time (to busy) and Money
    • Everything we do in libraries takes time and money.  When thinking about the potential cost of implementing the approach, also re-evaluate where time and money is currently being spent.  A serious evaluation of current activities should at a minimum allow a library system or branch to re-allocate (within the current budget) a portion of current staff time and money towards working with the community.
    • ‘It makes good business sense to engage with as many community members as possible. A business model which only meets the needs of a minority of people is not value for money or sustainable. The collective public resources which are used to fund library services should be shared as widely as possible with all sections of the community.’ – John Pateman
    • Time is always in short supply.  If a gap is identified, it is always easy to fill it with another activity.  The question becomes, is it filled with an activity libraries identify internally, or activities that are identified with the community as a priority/need.  If the community is involved from the beginning of the service process, time may actually be saved – since relevance to community is ensured.

Role of Services

  • It doesn’t fit our mandate
    • Working with the community, especially the public, in public libraries is part of our mandate.  If it is not, be an advocate for changing your library systems mandate/vision/goals etc.
  • We are not social workers
    • As a former social worker and now a librarian, I agree librarians are not social workers.  We are information specialists.  As information specialists it is our obligation to inform and educate ourselves before making statements like this.  The definition of a social worker can be found here and community led librarianship is explained here.
  • We are already doing it
    • That is great.  Since the approach was developed in 2008, it would be great to learn from one another.  Let’s collaboratively share and discuss best practices – a new site has been launched to do that.  Please join here!
  • We are already serving our current users well
    • Great.  This approach will ensure that the library system will serve current users even better.  For example, by building evaluation into each component of the service planning process, the community will inform the system if something is relevant to them before the program or service is launched.
  • It doesn’t work
    • Four major urban library systems across Canada used this approach extensively from 2004-2008, and the approach is being integrated by different systems in different ways.  This process was constantly externally evaluated and won national recognition and awards.  It has since been adopted and applied in other library systems and many other systems have expressed an interest in learning about the approach.  The only way to know if something does or does not work is by trying it.

The Unknown

When approaching a community and learning to listen to hear community identified need – the unknown is the most important part of the process.  This is where learning and innovation occurs.

  • This is not a prescriptive approach to work
    • This is not a repetitive task orientated approach to work.  As discussed by Ken Roberts from Hamilton Public Libraries, one of the future trends of library work is moving towards service not task orientated work.  This approach will lead to innovation – which in the current environment of rapid changes to the publishing and information management field, can only be beneficial to public libraries.
  • How will it impact my work?  I am unsure?
    • The good thing about community led work is that it is a two way process.  Library staff, along with the community will be involved in these decisions.  Library staff can become more empowered by participating in this change management process.

Thanks to John Pateman for feedback on this posting.



Filed under community development, inclusion/exclusion, public libraries