Community Needs in Libraries

This post was originally published as a reading reflection on the article Learn by Asking: The User Experience.

The best libraries tailor their services to the needs of their communities. And while different communities have different needs, there certainly are similarities in communities across the country. What might some of these similarities be, and how can libraries use these similarities to their advantage?

Regardless of the goals and interests of a particular community, I think that libraries should be places that offer, protect, and enhance:

  • access to information
  • assistance with finding that information
  • access to technology
  • assistance with using the technology offered
  • forums/spaces for collaborative interactions

With this image of a library in mind, I think communities have several base qualities/interests in common when using the library.

  • People are interested in information in a variety of forms, although the methods through which they prefer to seek out and receive information may vary.
  • A “community” suggests to me a collection of individuals that share something in common — be that living in the same physical location or sharing a similar set of values/interests.
  • Supporting communities and community learning therefore means looking past individual patrons and instead looking at how a community functions as a whole.
  • This means facilitating an environment (through the programs, services, etc. offered/supported by a library) that isĀ invested in the communication and cooperation of the patrons within our institutions — that communication being just as much between community members themselves as between community members and library staff.

That all said, one of the biggest take-aways I got from this week’s readings was the importance of connecting with our users at as personal a level as possible. Aaron’s “Learn by Asking” article emphasizes this with his discussion on the necessity of cultivating empathy towards users: “if we want to make deep connections with our communities, we must figure out how people feel.” In order to make non-superficial connections and assessments of the communities we serve, it’s crucial to take as much interest in learning about the communities we work with as possible. User interviews paired with some of the other techniques we’ve been discussing this semester seem like a great way to work toward accomplishing this.

Ultimately, when talking about a community, I think it’s important to remember that individual needs/desires interconnect in different ways. It’s probably not enough to find that User A uses the library one way and User B uses the library another. It’s where the motivations, interests, and interactions of Users A and B cross paths that true community evaluation can take place.

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