Easy Ways to Become the Community Service Hub Your Library Is Meant to Be
When people work together to make their communities better places to live, their communities thrive. By bringing together individuals of all ages and backgrounds to learn and explore, libraries like yours have already established themselves as fixtures in their communities. Imagine how your library could elevate itself as a community hub if volunteer work were tied to the library as well!
The ways in which libraries encourage community service can take many forms. By partnering with local businesses, nonprofits, government organizations, and civic agencies, your library can help amplify existing initiatives. Nationwide or seasonal events, such as the MLK National Day of Service or your library’s summer reading program, can be a springboard for getting your patrons involved in the community. However, you don’t have to wait to begin establishing your library as a community hub. Below we’ll explore a few ways your library can start providing patrons with opportunities for community involvement any time of year.
Promote Skill Sharing
Community members of all ages likely already view your library as an educational hub since you’re their one-stop shop for books, e-resources and other materials that promote lifelong learning. You’ve also probably already forged partnerships with local organizations as you’ve planned events like your summer reading program. Without even knowing it, you’ve managed to get yourself into the perfect position to drive skill sharing across generations in your community!
Consider these ideas:
- Partner with a senior center to co-host a tech tutoring event. These sessions give teens and adults in your community the opportunity to teach seniors how to use their cellphones, e-readers, social media platforms, and more.
- Work with your local emergency service providers to help patrons learn lifesaving skills. Partnering with the Red Cross, you can help your patrons get CPR certified. Your local firehouse might be interested in sending over a firetruck and a few firefighters to teach fire safety, and your local police station would likely appreciate the opportunity to teach community members how to help make their neighborhoods safer.
- Sign up teen and adult patrons to offer tutoring services to elementary and middle school students. You could stick to the core school subjects like math and science, or you could even give those with special talents an opportunity to share them. Consider seeking out writers, artists, and musicians who are interested in developing the next generation of creative geniuses, and give them space in your branches to share their skills.
Improve and Beautify Your Community
Whether it’s planting trees, cleaning up local parks and public areas, building bird feeders and houses, or painting park benches, there are so many opportunities to make your community look and feel better. Improving and beautifying your community is a great opportunity to extend your library’s relationship with its local parks and rec department. You could also use this as an opportunity to partner with local hardware stores for supplies for your community service initiatives — and for prizes for your upcoming summer reading program, too! Here are a few ideas:
- Recruit volunteers to plant trees in the community.
- Host a cleanup event for local parks and public areas.
- Hold a program to build bird feeders and birdhouses.
- Partner with your parks and rec department to paint park benches.
Lend a Helping Hand
After Hurricane Sandy, libraries in New York and New Jersey opened their doors for those needing computers to fill out federal forms and let their loved ones know they made it safely through the storm. While your community hopefully won’t be faced with a natural disaster of this scale, there are likely already many individuals in need within your community.
Your library can serve as a place for community members to come together to help those who have less. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Organize a car wash, bake sale, blood drive, or food or clothing drive to support local charities or shelters.
- Sign patrons up to deliver food via Meals on Wheels or work at a local soup kitchen.
- Coordinate a knitting program that teaches patrons how to knit hats and blankets for your local neonatal ICU or homeless shelters.
The Joliet Public Library: A Community Hub Success Story
The Joliet Public Library in Illinois has recognized the importance of encouraging patrons to engage in community service opportunities. “We’re having great success inviting people to get active in our community while establishing ourselves as a community hub,” shared Andrea Sowers, the library’s Teen Services Librarian. As part of their summer reading program, Joliet encourages people to volunteer, or to simply do something nice to help someone. They use Demco Software’s online reading program management tool, Wandoo Reader, to track community involvement Challenges (creative ways to promote literacy beyond just reading books).
Whether you use your summer reading program or some other opportunity as a springboard for getting your patrons involved and invested in their community, your library too can establish itself as a community hub by facilitating volunteer opportunities. Download the Joliet Public Library Case Study to learn more about how Joliet engaged and improved its community — and their library — by encouraging community service.
“Engaging Teens Through Service,” Young Adult Library Services Association
“Libraries and Community Engagement,” American Library Association