Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

It Takes a Library to Raise a Community

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

It Takes a Library to Raise a Community

Article excerpt


This paper is based on a conference presentation given by the authors at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, held in Toronto, Ontario, January 31 - February 3, 2007.

Keywords: Community development; community building; capacity building; social inclusion; asset mapping


In 2001, Ontario Library Service-North (OLS-North) conducted an environmental scan as part of its strategic planning process that highlighted many of the issues facing northern communities. Northern Ontario makes up almost 90% of the geography of the province and less than 10% of the population. Among the issues facing our communities are that they are isolated geographically and are reliant on resource-based industries such as mining and forestry. Community problems are further compounded by the reduced municipal tax base and the strains of additional services assumed by municipalities in the last decade.

When primary industries suffer, the communities suffer. When the community suffers economically, the public library suffers. Libraries must be seen as part of a solution to community problems by community leaders and primary funders. Libraries which are successful in promoting their value to the community often receive increased support from the municipality and from various community partners. These libraries demonstrate that public libraries are important partners in developing solutions to community problems.

As part of its commitment to assisting libraries with community development, OLS-North created a Library Development Advisor Promotion and Community Development position in February 2002.

OLS-North's latest strategic plan calls for the creation of five community development toolkits. It Takes a Library to Raise a Community: A Community Development Activities Tool Kit for Public Libraries is number one in the set. Its purpose is to set the stage for the remaining tool kits. This kit demonstrates, in practical and everyday ways, how libraries build communities.

In 2003, OLS-North received funding from the National Crime Prevention Strategy's Community Mobilization Fund to develop a series of workshops and a toolkit to help public libraries take a lead role in developing local crime prevention initiatives. Crime Prevention & Personal Safety for Your Library and Community, which is actually the second volume in the set of community development tool kits, was e-published in 2004.

Overview of Research

Throughout the 1990's and early into this decade, research into the role of public libraries in community development focused exclusively on a particular aspect of community development, such as the role of the library in supporting local economic development (Walzer and Stott 13). Works supporting the libraries' role in economic development include The Libraries Contribution to your community by dmA Planning and Management Services and Southern Ontario Library Service, and "Libraries as Equity Blocks" by Andrew Richard Albanese. In addition, some work has centered on the broader goal of sustainable communities (ALA), or building socially inclusive libraries (DCMS 12).

Research referred to when writing the community development kits may be accessed through the Ontario Library Service Clearinghouse of Professional Information - Community Development Resources. A link to this Clearinghouse is available on the OLS-North website (

In A Place at the Table: Participating in Community Building, McCook advocates that librarians need to find their place at the community table (104-105). The absence of library representation in various community building movements in the United States is discussed (37-40). Key factors for successful community building (44-53), case studies of community-building librarians (55-68), and a new model of work for librarians who believe that community building must be a goal of public libraries are presented (94-107). …

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