Relevant at Any Size: Thinking About Our Future

Photo by Jessica Hilburn, taken from benson.ccfls.org Staff Page. I like Oreos.

Change is always happening. Over the past four years at the Benson Memorial Library we’ve been able to witness those changes that are happening in our community and the greater world around us as they happen. We see those changes in the day to day operations of the library, in our patron’s lives, and overall how we provide services to our community members. We never rest with the work that we do because we know that the minute we take a break we’ve fallen behind in providing our services to our community members. Library work in the 21st century never ends.

Scroll through the archives on this website and in those writings you will find a librarian who once believed that the future of libraries was one where we all came together over a certain service, movement, or idea. For the most part I no longer believe that. Every public library all across the world is different because every community is different. Not every library needs makerspace, a code camp, or whatever flavor of the moment exists in this profession.

The one movement or idea that we should all be following is to listen to our community and provide them with amazing customer service. When a public library listens to their community they are then able to keep up with the change happening around them. I think that this is the best possible way forward for public libraries, so as the Executive Director of the Benson Memorial Library I always keep that at the forefront of my mind every day I set foot in my library.

Constantly thinking about the future (for me at least) helps keep me focused on the work that needs to be done to accomplish my goal of making this public library a place for everyone in the community. As I think about what we do as a library, I make lists of who we are, where we want to go, and what we need to accomplish. In this installment of Relevant at Any Size, I’ll share these lists and the ideas that are on them with you. My hope is that from this sharing you will take away the idea that you should focus on your community and formulate your own unique path ahead for your library. I do not want you to read this and think that your library, like the Benson Memorial Library, has to have a robust local history program or something like that. If that fits your library and your community, go for it. What I want is for you to look into the soul of your community, find what’s in there, and grow from there. Enjoy.

Other Services: Public Libraries are at the center of every community whether or not everyone knows about it, and it is in my library’s best interest to expand our other services to help our community members out. Be it something simple like copies, printing, or faxes, or something as complex as converting VHS tapes to digital files, I think we have to expand our services to include many more things than lending out materials, offering free events, and providing a connection to the internet. Our public library needs to get more into the other services game. We have had success with the copy/print/fax trifecta, a moderate success with our booksales, and not much success circulating stuff like ukuleles, cake pans, and other things. I will take what we have learned and grow.

Local History, given our region’s important history when it comes to oil in America, is one of the services that our library offered in the past but needed to expand upon greatly. We’ve done that over the past two years (my posts on this subject can be found here). We have a full time Historian who assists community members with local history research, authors a website full of local stories about our community, offers events on local history, genealogy, and more, has moved our local history collection ahead into the 21st Century, and continues to offer great resources that connect our community members to their past and adds new services to help grow our Local History & Genealogy program even more. The community needs a Local History & Genealogy Program at our library, so we gave it to them and continue to grow that program as they need it. I am most proud of the work we’ve done in this area and I am excited about the future.

Youth Services is the backbone of modern public libraries and we’re no different at the Benson Memorial Library. We may only have one staff member who is dedicated to working in Youth Services but we don’t let that hold us back. We generally have events 3 of the 6 days of the week we are open, with most of those days being ones where we have multiple events. For example: In January 2019 we hosted a total of 18 events over the course of 11 days at the library. The idea is simple: give the youth members of your community a reason to come to the library though the collections and events and they will come. We are doing just that. Our strongest portion of the youth services crowd comes from the age 6-12 range, with toddlers coming in a close second followed by the teen population at a distant third. We have a lot of work to do with the teen population and we’re slowly on our way as we’ve increased the number of teen only events and have dabbled in a Teen Advisory Board. We are getting there, and like everything great things take time.

I believe a lot in simplifying the message of the public library. Our community needs to have a positive and seamless experience at the library. They shouldn’t have to feel overwhelmed about the minutiae of what goes on in a public library. They should know that they can exist in the public library space with or without a library card. They should know how and if they can get a card at your library (once again, a thing that differs from library to library because of geography and a much larger game of politics). I am constantly working with our board of directions to write library policy that makes sense, is fair, and clear in its purpose. Communicating the achievements the library has made is a great way to keep the library in the minds of the community. I bet that at some point in the past I was down on Annual Reports for libraries, but I’m here to say that I was wrong about what I once thought. I love sharing this message with the community at the end of every year and I feel that the community responds to the annual report that we share.

The message we are trying to share with the community at the Benson Memorial Library is one that is positive. We want everyone in the community to know that they are welcome at the Benson Memorial Library. A simple and clear message will help us get there.

I am always thinking about the future of the Benson Memorial Library. My intentions are always to make this place special for everyone in this community. I believe this is the best use of my time here and I will continue on this path until I am needed on another path.

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