Multnomah County Library is currently embarking on the initial phases of a community engagement process that will attempt to improve the library’s strategic priorities and services by better understanding their community’s aspirations, needs and obstacles. This process, while new, stems from a clear devotion to reaching as many people within their community as possible.

Data Shows the Way

One recent initiative within the library was to explore how they could better serve the segments of their population with the fewest resources. After examining the data, it was clear: the areas with the highest rate of restricted access or blocked cards due to fines were the same areas with the highest rates of poverty. The library’s solution was elegantly simple: waive existing use fines, and stop collecting fines on youth accounts and on youth-related materials altogether. The library undertook this initiative at the start of its 2016 summer reading program, a huge point of engagement for large sections of the community, in which over 100,000 children participate each year. By waiving these fines, the library restored access to about 8,000 young people and their families.

Try an Online Librarian

My Librarian Initiative, Multnomah County Library, OR

A second recent initiative was the launch of My Librarian, an online portal for people to connect with librarians to find their next great read. The portal introduces patrons to librarians with compelling images and a host of information regarding the librarians’ reading preferences.

“One of the highest value-adds the library brings the people it serves is the personal connection,” shares Shawn Cunningham, Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives. “We wanted to transfer that essential human connection between a patron and a librarian to a digital format.” This initiative, too, was rooted in the data. After learning that more people use the library online than in person, the library engaged in focus groups, learning more about how people were using the library before designing the service. “We were looking for ways to make the process of reader’s advisory something people could engage with from their phone, tablet, or computer,” adds Cunningham.

MultCoLib Mobile App

Go Mobile

Multnomah also provides their patrons with easy access to all the library’s resources with their MultCoLib Boopsie mobile app. In 2016, Multnomah patrons used the app to make over 12.5 million queries and the app has been downloaded by over 26,000 people!

Key Takeaways

1. Try new things. It’s OK to fail.

2. Be a shapeshifter. “Flexibility shows that the public library isn’t static.”

3. “Serve people where they are, in the ways they want to use the library” through partnerships with community-based organizations and nonprofits.

4. Find where you can “plug-in” and leverage existing channels and networks in creative ways. Through these avenues, the library is able to “constantly listen to what our community wants, making changes based on changing patterns of behavior and how people use the library.”

5. “Steal our library’s stuff [ideas], or if not ours, someone else’s! Libraries are about sharing and collaboration — leveraging good ideas that exist for the common good.”