Librarians and Comprehensive Community Initiatives

Article excerpt

Current National Movements that Should Involve Librarians

The "shadow" conventions held during August 2000 at the sites of the Democratic and Republican conventions elevated and invigorated public discourse on the issues of poverty and wealth inequality.[1] The ongoing work of one of the shadow convention sponsors, the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support (NCJIS), provides an opportunity for community-building librarians to join with organizations that represent poor, working class, and middle-class people of all colors in urban, suburban, and rural areas.[2]

Reviewing the work of the NCJIS leads to its parent organization, the Center for Community Change (CCC), which has worked for thirty years to reduce poverty and rebuild low-income communities by helping people develop the skills and resources they need to rebuild their communities as well as to change policies and institutions that adversely affect their lives.[3] Yet the Web site of the CCC has no mention of librarians or recognition that the work librarians do could be of critical assistance in achieving community goals. Reading the documentation of these national initiatives with a librarian's eye, it is impossible not to take note of the many problems identified, for which the skills and expertise of a librarian might well be part of the solution.

A Place at the Table

In the recent book, A Place at the Table: Participating in Community Building, the absence of librarians in the literature of community building is explored.[4] While the book's focus is on the lack of inclusion of public libraries in this literature, the same lack of inclusion, in general, characterizes the work of academic librarians in the service learning and engaged university movements in higher education. It is not because librarians in their daily work are not part of community-building efforts, but because their daily work is not always viewed as part of the planning that contributes to the development of comprehensive community initiatives, whether in cities, towns, or on campuses.

Today the call for community building and civic renewal resounds in the literature of the policy sciences, higher education, and the popular press.[5] Civic renewal is the movement calling for citizens to participate in the local efforts that build community. In a city this might mean involvement in initiatives such as community development corporations; on a campus this might mean involvement in initiatives such those to create a campus environment of engagement.

Public librarians, as citizens of the community in which they work, and academic librarians, as citizens of the campus at which they work, need to participate in community initiatives and planning. By participating at the outset in planning and visioning, librarians will be at the table and in a position to identify opportunities for the library and its services to provide solutions to community and campus challenges. This is not a simple task.

For the public librarian who has identified serving adult new readers as important in a community of new Americans or an area in which there is a disproportionate high school dropout rate, there are likely already extant literacy providers, adult basic education programs, or English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Becoming a part of the planning committee for these initiatives might mean having to commit to a year or more of several meetings a month. The library may not be on the agenda. To ensure that the library becomes part of these initiatives, trust must be earned and the librarian must be included as an active partner--even if the library is not initially accepted as one part of the solution.

For a university or community college librarian, there may be campus movements that have not included the library. One example is a group of faculty sending out a survey to collect video and oral histories undertaken by various departments as part of the celebration of the local community's 150th anniversary. …