experiencing collections

From Laura at Library Crunch:

… libraries must craft their services and collections to reflect the needs of their individual communities. If your community is crying out for the latest in popular fiction or a collection of classics (or likely a combination of both), then by all means that is what you should provide. As librarians we are here to serve our users by providing them with the information and resources they want, not glare down our noses at them because of their reading choices.

Last year I interviewed Annie Norman, Delaware State Librarian, about how collection development is evolving for public libraries in Delaware. After the interview, Norman sent me the Dover Public Library User Identity-Motivation Study that the Dept. of Libraries had contracted with the Institute for Learning Innovation to understand public library users and their motivations in Dover. (Kudos to Norman for questioning how much we really know about what patrons want – and then offering segmentation as one solution for getting us there.)

Guess what? The study concluded that library users could be categorized as “experience seekers” more frequently than any other category. And the opportunity they discovered for this group? Community building. From the report:

All users believed that at a rudimentary level, libraries already act as community centers, allowing communities to communicate shared values such as cultural diversity or the joy of learning and reading. However, a disproportionate number of Experience Seekers spoke of the potential for libraries to expand this role by offering opportunities for them to come to the library for a wider variety of activities, such as:

  • Offering enriched programming such as classes, guest speakers, reading groups, etc. Users spoke of wanting an interactive exchange with experts, which is not available on television or the internet. In addition to presentations with personal accounts and/or expert knowledge, users wanted to be able to ask questions, and connect personally with the presenter.

  • Libraries could work harder at building community by offering individuals the opportunity to engage with others who share specific interests and learning preferences; all while providing a safe space to support identity-building and personal exploration. Again, a number of the individuals we talked with felt libraries could expand this role through both expansion of above mentioned programs as well as through the development of specialized groups or clubs.

I agree with Laura about service/collection development practices and policy. I would push us further: to expand our ideas of “services” or “collection” to include participatory experiences around the materials our communities show interest in and want to create connections around.

There’s first the resistance to the glaring down of noses. Second, the invitation to dialog and connect. (Does your library really listen?) Finally, there’s the appropriate appropriation of resources towards the meeting of true needs.

I’d love to hear from folks who may have practical examples of library invitations to patrons to experience their collections, or from patrons experiencing collections and materials in ways that wouldn’t be possible without the library’s invitation.