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

It Takes a Community to Create a Library

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

It Takes a Community to Create a Library

Article excerpt


Based on "Community-Led Libraries: Working Together With Your Community", Preconference Session, CLA 2008: May 21, 2008 (Vancouver, BC). Presenters: Tracey Jones, Heather Davis, Andre Gagnon, Randy Gatley, Stephanie Kripps, Annette DeFaveri, Brian Campbell, Sandra Singh


The four-year, four-city Working Together Project sent Community Development Librarians into diverse neighbourhoods across the country. Supported through funding agreements with Human Resources and Social Development Canada, the Vancouver, Regina, Toronto, and Halifax public libraries worked in diverse urban neighbourhoods and with diverse communities - communities we traditionally consider socially excluded. Such communities included people new to Canada, such as immigrants and refugees, people of aboriginal descent, people living in poverty, people recovering from or living with mental illness, people recently released from federal institutions, and young people at risk.

Over this period, the Project's community-based librarians talked and engaged with literally thousands of socially excluded community members from diverse communities in the four large urban centres across Canada. The librarians working with the community took a community-practitioner-based approach. This approach moved community-based librarian work beyond discussions amongst librarian staff on how best to meet community needs, to discussions based upon the lived experiences of socially excluded community members and the librarians who engage with them as equal members of the community. Some librarians have previously worked with targeted socially excluded groups; however, the purpose of this project was not to review other works - rather, it was crucial to have community members' library experiences drive the Project, not library-based beliefs held by librarians nor internally generated professional literature.

It became clear that librarians' traditional approach to library services did not adequately address the needs of socially excluded community members. It also became clear that it is essential to begin a discussion around the use of traditional library service planning versus a community-led service planning model as the most effective way to make library services relevant to socially excluded community members.

Social inclusion or exclusion in public libraries?

Public library staff across Canada believe public libraries are inclusive institutions created equally for everyone in the community. Why would librarians believe otherwise? From day one, librarians frequently hear from co-workers, traditional library users, and teachers, about the inclusive nature of public libraries. When Community Development Librarians with the Working Together Project started talking with other librarians about social inclusion and exclusion, we heard many examples of library inclusiveness. For instance, we heard about free library collections which allow people to readily access and borrow materials, that anyone can walk through the front door of the public library, and we heard how libraries are already providing library services to socially excluded community members. We heard that people tend not to use library services because they are unaware of what libraries have to offer them. Librarians usually draw two conclusions from these examples: 1) It is a personal choice when people do not use library services; and 2) Libraries just need to do a better job marketing what they have to offer to the community. The belief that the public library is an inclusive institution is so ardently incorporated into the identity of public librarianship that questioning the social inclusiveness of libraries rarely occurs.

So is it just that simple? Are libraries the inclusive institutions we claim they are, or is something else going on?

To answer this question, Community Development Librarians started to engage in conversations with socially excluded community members who use libraries and those who are non-library users (Muzzerall et al. …

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