October is Canadian Library Month. This year’s theme is “libraries connect” and across the country, people are celebrating the roles that libraries play in connecting people and communities. This is the first of two Stories from the Field articles exploring how libraries connect with people and with literacy—in Canada and abroad.
Over four years, the project identified six key lessons learned:
· Library culture, along with rules and procedures, created significant barriers to inclusion.
· Libraries must recognise that same or consistent customer service, which does not take into account socio-economic disparity, results in inequitable services that further disadvantage socially excluded people.
· Planning relevant and effective library services for socially excluded community members requires a collaboration of equals between community members and the library.
· Relationship building is at the core of effective service planning.
· Staff “soft skills” such as empathy, interpersonal competence, and open-mindedness are essential.
· People want to see themselves represented in the library and to have an opportunity to participate. (Community-Led Libraries Toolkit 2008, 8)
An additional outcome of the project was the development of a community-led service-planning toolkit designed to help libraries engage with their communities. The Community-Led Libraries Toolkit includes sections on community entry, community mapping, relationship building, partnerships, program planning, computer training, collection development, and customer service. The Working Together Project’s success and its Toolkit provide an exciting and useful blueprint for libraries interested in better serving their diverse communities.
The library’s relationship-building initiatives included professional development for staff on diversity issues. As a result of the library’s efforts, more people with disabilities, immigrants, and the First Nations community came to the library and used the services (Khetarpal 2013).