We need to work with our communities more than working for them. Regardless of who the library serves, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be the heart of the community.
When working with a community, you can’t just listen for the sake of learning. You have to be prepared to act on what you hear. In order to do that, you have to have the capacity for change. And, you can’t do all the work — you must collaborate with the community. Communication and transparency will further the collaboration and integration of the community with the work.
Identify your community. It sounds simple, but it’s more than just demographics. What do they use outside of the library? What services are they needing? The sweet spot is where the community and the library overlap in their wants. Innovation and iteration come from where those wants don’t overlap.
Identify technologies to support the work. Use the tools that your community will use, not just the shiniest.
Identify the roles. Leave the fun planning to the community leads, and be prepared to take on the cleanup work.
This sounds simple, but there are barriers that prevent success. Fear of failure prevents many things. Assuming that the differences between institutions mean we can’t learn from each other. Assuming that every member of the community already uses the library in some capacity.
Why collaborate at all? For example, freelance workers gain ideas and experience from working in shared spaces, but libraries haven’t provided those kinds of spaces as well as others. Libraries could be a social network hub. Libraries could be the repositories of community generated media.
Our work is not our goal. Our work is how we reach our goal.
Let the community drive. Stay in the sweet spot. Share the spotlight. Operate in loops. Think big.