Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Libraries and Community Development

Like many public libraries, particularly in smaller local authorities, our library services are bundled up in a Community Services department. During a meeting with my counterparts from the Community Development section, I expounded that public libraries are increasingly seeing themselves as playing an important role in community development. I said this with some trepidation, as I'm aware that it could sound like libraries are "trespassing" on the traditional territory of community development specialists. I gave as a recent example of community development the library's facilitation of a small group interested in Bonsai to increase thier knowledge and meet monthly. It happened like this:

Female local resident has just started a small business from her hobby, bonsai plants for sale. Is selling them door to door - and one of the doors in the neighbourhood is the library! Library staff buy some bonsai, then invite seller to give a talk about bonsai "because lots of people are probably interested in this topic" (nb librarians' intuition - a very valuable resource). Low key advertising, flyers, leads to a very successful session of people who are either already into bonsai or who want to get started. They enjoy themselves so much they decide to meet informally monthly, bringing along their bonsai plants, so the more experienced bonsai-ists can help the noobs, and also exhibit bonsais they are particularly proud of. Could they continue to meet at the library? No problem!! Grassroots community development in action.

Our ongoing "Armchair Traveller" sessions are a bit like that too. A regular group is coming to these info nights, are now on nodding acquaintance with each other, and travel tips are often swapped over supper after the formal presentations.

I believe there is a measure of community capacity that says that the number of "links" individuals have to one another in a local community correlates to feelings of satisfaction and happiness (or something like that). So obviously when libraries undertake these sorts of activities we are contributing to community wellbeing.

I got to thinking, is it a special sort of community development that libraries do? Does it have a particular context? For instance, will librarians be helping groups lobby for handicapped facilities at the beach? Will librarians be starting support groups for recent migrants? I think not!! It's pretty obvious when you think about it, what we are doing (intuitively) is facilitating opportunities for information exchange based not on print, or electronic information, but on that other fabulous source of knowledge - community knowledge. Sometimes an outcome of this strategy is the formation of groups or looser connections around a community of interest. Maybe if we could define/articulate this better (has anyone?) we would be more comfortable with our role in community development, and the community development specialists would be less concerned or defensive when we seem to be making incursions into their area.


  • Hello Debbie,

    I think that you raise some good comments and issues in your blog. There are several different ways in which librarians can work with communities, and it is highly dependent on the library capacity and the communities needs. Please feel free to take a look at a methodology for the newly developed community-led service model, created via major learnings and engagement with socially excluded community members over the past four years in four large Canadian cities. One major publication which came from the project, a toolkit published by the Working Together, can be found at

    Thanks for the blog Debbie!

    Ken Williment, Community Development Manager - Halifax Public Libraries

    By Blogger ken, at 4:51 AM  

  • Debbie, how has your library's involvement in CD worked out?

    Ken (nova Scotia) had some great advice and Nova Scotia is one of the few jurisdictions with a policy for community development.

    Public libraries are a key piece of the community and the community development process in communities.

    Ken is right with his comment on the capacity issue as all libraryies are not created equal.

    I'd be interested in hearing how things progressed since 2007.

    By Anonymous Punch Jackson, at 1:57 AM  

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