Join the Team, Be a Player

Join the Team, Be a Player

Belonging to community boards and organizations is an essential first step to getting a place at the table for your library. But becoming an active member, or even leader can really pay off.

By Steve DelVecchio

Being active in the community can take a lot of extra time and hard work, but it will pay off in the long run.
-- Mary Brown, Director of the Union County (FL) Public Library

While being there is an essential first step to building community partnerships in a way that gets your library "a place at the table," it isn't enough. To really turn your presence on community boards, councils, and organizations into an effective platform you need to become a key part of the team.

Often this means that you have to take on roles and tasks that may seem tiresome, but will gain you, and your library, big points in the appreciation of others in the community. Serving as an organization's secretary may seem like a thankless job, but folks will notice and appreciate your contribution.

This is just what Beverly Obert, Executive Director of the Rolling Prairie (IL) Library System did:

In the past the library I was at was a member of the local Chamber of Commerce.  I talked about the library at their monthly meetings, and even served as Secretary.  The profile of the library increased with this exposure.

One way to be a team player is to host these meetings. Debbie Daugherty, Director of the Wynnewood (OK) Public Library does this whenever possible:

In response to your other question about participation in planning sessions with the community, I have noticed over the years that if we don't invite ourselves to these planning sessions of different types, we are not included.  You have to step up and be aware of what is in the works.  Ask to be included.  Offer to host, whenever possible.  You have to be your own advocate.

Chris Moede, Director of the Brillion (WI) Public Library, shares how being part of the city management team made the difference:

When I came to the Brillion Public Library some 20 years ago, the budget was dismal and we received little support from our City.  I sought to first grow the library by writing and receiving a number of grants that added materials and services.  I had little success with the city until I began attending City Council meetings and reporting on the Library.  I became visible to the funding body and they became more interested in the library. A planning process helped our budget grow.  A new city administrator began including me as part of the city management team.  As part of the team, we worked together to provide the best service to the people of the city.  Other departments provided strengths that we could use. We also looked at ways of sharing things such as purchasing and building personnel.  Our city developed a website that included the library.  The community development director takes care of the website, which has saved the library time.  We also use an individual who works for the city and has a computer background to help us with computer problems and hooking up computer printers.  As a part of the city management team, I attend regular department head meetings, attend city council planning meetings as well as the regular council meetings.  This exposure has given the Library a position of credibility with the City and we have not had a problem with the City since.

And as James LaRue, Director of the Douglas County (CO) Libraries, points out, it won't work to show up just to "take":

We let them know we're not there to TAKE from them, but to bring real assets to the table.

Mary Brown, Director of the Union County (FL) Public Library, knows that this takes "a lot of extra time and hard work, but it will pay off in the long run:"

Union County Public Library has a reputation for building strong community partnerships and acting as a vital entity in many aspects within the community. I have found that the best way to build bridges within a community is to become an active member in the many areas that benefit the community at large. For instance, a library director can and should be a member of various civic organizations like rotary, lion's club, etc. In addition, libraries can easily get involved in various charitable drives such as toy and food drives. These efforts will show that the library staff care about the community they serve. Being active in the community can take a lot of extra time and hard work, but it will pay off in the long run. Our library has only to ask for something and the various community organizations are right there to help, because the community knows that we are helping at every turn. It is imperative to encourage the entire library staff to take an active role in community events. Here is a list of activities/groups that I am involved in, as well as our library staff: Rotary member, high school and elementary school advisory council member, recreation board member, toys for kids chairperson, extension/4-H advisory council member, Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency member, Union County Community Council member. The benefits of being involved in your community are endless. When you show how much you care, community members are easy to approach and always willing to help. It becomes easy to present very large programs where many community organizations get involved. In addition, involvement within the community keeps you aware of what is going on and enables you to help your customers. Finally, the best way to create goodwill within your community is to provide exemplary customer service.

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