Getting the Library into the Community (in Unique Spaces)

Librarianship | Jennifer Lohmann| April 09, 2018

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Jennifer Lohmann from NoveList, explores the various ways in which public libraries transcend their traditional spaces and meet the patrons where they are — in airports, festivals and more.

The Carnegie Library, with its stone façade, imposing steps, and feeling of stepping into a building on a Downton Abbey, set came during a rush of library expansion in the United States. Along with the money for the building, these libraries brought their communities a sense of public investment in the library, a belief in the importance of the library, and the idea that the life-changing services of the library should be provided for free. In the intervening years, not only has library architecture changed, but so has the ways in which libraries are building that sense of investment and letting people know what they have to offer.

Going where our patrons are is not a new idea in public library service. The bookmobile and book bike are common in the United States. For areas in the world where geography doesn’t allow for a bookmobile, there are book donkeys and book camels.

In the intervening years, not only has library architecture changed, but so has the ways in which libraries are building that sense of investment and letting people know what they have to offer.

Transportation isn’t the only way for a library to “get out there.” One of the best things about working for NoveList is talking to and visiting librarians from around the world and hearing the different ways they are engaging their community — and helping their library show up in new places.

For some libraries, this has meant putting a library branch in a location that is both unexpected and makes perfect sense. Boise Public Library’s Digital Library in the Boise Airport is a great example. I am not alone in having gotten to the airport and remembered I didn’t have a magazine, book or audiobook ready to go. Maybe I’ve got some time to kill and am thinking about how I was going to research washing machines.

As a patron in need, I can appreciate the Boise Public Library making itself available. The Digital Library has magazines you can read, interactive picture books for kids and parents, plus information about Boise, the library, and downloading more reading material. All right there when I, weary traveler, am looking for a distraction.

Not all libraries have the resources to put a small branch in their local airport, or a welcoming airport with a mostly local population passing through. But most libraries are near a festival or seven, and festivals are the perfect place to reach your community. Durham County Library, where I used to work, has tables at the CenterFest Arts Festival and the Eno River Music Festival. The tables were staffed by library employees who could get you signed up for a library card or summer reading, and show you how to search our databases or download a magazine.

Want to encourage more visits from your library to outside organizations? Frisco Public Library has a form the community can fill out, including suggestions of what library staff is available for.

Brett Keniston from Boulder Public Library came to the NoveList station at ALA-Midwinter to tell us about how he staffs a readers’ advisory desk at the Denver Comic Con. We loved that he couldn’t do the work without NoveList, but we also loved the cute design of his readers’ advisory station and the way he was demonstrating how the library can (and should!) touch all parts of its community’s interests.

The library being immersed in the community isn’t limited to place. That sense of participating (and the caring it implies) can be as small as providing a backpack for the parents and children who visit your library to take on their nature hikes, like this example from Henrico County Public Library. These may look like just a backpack, but they serve as a vehicle to take the library and its relevant resources with you into the woods.

While I no longer work in a library, these ideas still inspire me. They inspire me to be better at my work with NoveList, to help libraries continue to innovate and serve their patrons. Not to mention that I love librarians and their dedication to their community. If I visit your library, expect me to be taking pictures of your great ideas and writing blog posts to brag about you.

Looking for ways for your library to be visible online to meet patrons where they are? Visit NoveList’s Linked Library Service.

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Jennifer Lohmann
NoveList Consultant

Jennifer is a NoveList Consultant, which means she gets to talk with librarians from around the world about projects they’re working on and brainstorm ways NoveList can help them. When she’s not working, she cooks, ignores her running shoes, and writes romance novels.

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