Actually, EPL.ca is Edmonton Public Library. I’ve referred to it as both “Extraordinary Public Library” and “Engaging Public Library” for its work in truly embedding itself into its communities to do what public libraries are meant to do: make a positive difference for the people in the community. While this is the mission of many public libraries, EPL takes deliberate steps to actually live its mission:
“Our mission is simple. We share! We share with our city, our community, our customers and ourselves. We share stories, ideas and experiences. We share our space! We are Edmonton’s largest lender of all kinds of information and entertainment. Our greatest passion is creating connections that help, grow, inspire and change.”
Last week at New York Public Library’s “Engaging Communities, Promoting Learning” conference developed by Information Today Inc., Pilar Martinez, Executive Director of Public Services for EPL spoke on a panel about EPL’s experiences and then delivered a powerful, packed workshop on the Roadmap for Reaching Out to & Working With Communities. EPL’s Community-Led Service Philosophy Toolkit (revised July 2011) is available on their website. Just by making this rich resource available EPL is demonstrating that they reach out to all communities, including the library community or, for that matter, the social service and public service communities; this Toolkit can and should be used by any organization focused on positive impacts within a neighbourhood or constituency. The excitement was palpable in the room that attendees could freely access this incredible tool after the workshop.
Community-led engagement is a strategy for many public libraries. Halifax Public Library shared their strides forward and lessons learned at CLA in 2011: Asset Mapping A Tool for Discovering the Library’s Role in the Community. Ken Williment, Community Development Manager, has written a thorough outline in It Takes A Community To Raise a Library and From Project to Branch Integration and Sustainability: Community-Led Work at Halifax Public Library.
These library strategies aren’t about taking library programs out to community groups. They are about building relationships within the community, developing deep understandings, working together to benefit the community and recognizing mutual value and respect. They aren’t about librarians going to tell community groups what the library can do for them; they are about librarians having lunch, weekly, with community groups to talk about food, issues, and “things” to get to know each other. Thanks to Ken Williment for initially raising my awareness of what community engagement strategies actually entail, and to Pilar for her in-depth explanation of EPL’s journey along this positive-impact path.