Rogers (2002) has told us that continued vitality in public libraries is to be found within the triangle of publicly-agreed upon value, strategic legal and political support, and optimization of organizational capacity (p. 53).
When conducting an informational interview with the Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Johnson County Public Library, I found a program within that institution that seemed to exemplify Roger’s concept. The program is a partnership between the Johnson County Public Library and Corrections Department to facilitate rehabilitation of youths in the country’s detention center and probation programs via literature. It uses both classical and pop literature to promote literacy as a tool for better health and quality of life first and foremost, but goes further to also engage young people in discussions of their own lives, how they can establish a sense of control and security, relate to others, etc.
The program was started as a “grass-roots” effort by concerned judges, corrections officers, and community members who then reached out to the library for tools and expert help. The library has taken this project up with great zest, going so far as to include it as part of the strategic plan as the library shuffles staff to serve three “priority populations/needs” into three specific branches so that all of the relevant professionals and resources can be concentrated in once facility.
The librarian I spoke to was obviously passionate about this program and shared great information not only about the trials and successes of the program itself, but the ongoing institutional and community collaboration that was part of making it a success. The cooperation between the various country governmental entities, community groups, and even within the library itself to meet this need frankly gave me goose bumps.
As exciting as this was though, I wonder today: why I have I never heard of it before? The research I’ve done on the program over the last two days has been fairly limited, but I’ve found no major news stories or community recognition of this program outside of media specifically related to the directly involved parties, and not even much of that. It’s not the lack of recognition that concerns me so much (though that is disheartening), but why not trumpet this kind of work from the roof tops to state legislators and donors alike looking for reasons to support library budgets? Why not promote this program and others like it among the Library’s volunteer opportunities? The library and it’s collaborators are going great work, but they’re not telling anyone!
I plan to follow-up with my contact to ask some questions related to this topic, but it leads me to wonder if libraries that are doing great work, making those all important “value-added enhancements” to their existing services and resources (Rogers 2002 p.53), are missing the final step in adequately documenting and promoting these efforts as part of the value they add to the communities they serve. Perhaps part of being an information advocate then is not just attracting new patronage or developing new services, but reminding people of whats already being done with great effect for the betterment of our communities.
Rodger, E.J. (2002, November). Value & vision: Public libraries must create public value through renewal and reinvention. American Libraries,33(10), 50-54.