At the Library

Librarians dig in to help communities

Column by Kari may
Posted

Is there a term for thousands of librarians gathered in one place? You know, like a pride of lions or an unkindness of ravens, or a school of fish. Well, whatever you might call us, I had the pleasure of attending a gathering of public librarians from around the country at the Public Library Association's national conference in Indianapolis last month.

I had the honor of being part of a panel presentation on the concept of "Embedded Librarianship," in which librarians take an active role in community development by serving on boards and advisory committees in their communities and offer the research services to help strengthen their communities. The topic was so popular, in fact, that we packed a room full of 230 eager librarians - enough to make this small-town librarian a little bit nervous!

This concept of embedded librarianship was first proposed by former Douglas County Libraries director Jamie LaRue, more than a decade ago, based on the idea that the community had questions that needed answering, and yet they were not aware that the library might be best suited to assist them. LaRue asserted that librarians should be connecting with and supporting these community groups, but he wasn't exactly sure how to do it.

Their first experiment with embedded librarianship began in 2008. They didn't have a structure or a plan; they simply wanted to be in the community and supporting the community. Since then, embedded librarianship has grown into a structured program, with clear expectations and goals from both the library and the organization they team up with. Their model has been adopted by libraries across the country.

I was invited to join the panel because our libraries and resources in Elbert County are significantly smaller than what our neighbors have in Douglas County, and yet we have been able to successfully reach out to many organizations in our community, particularly in Elizabeth.

On behalf of Elbert County Library District, I have been involved in several regional economic development activities. I served on the steering committee for the Northeastern Rural Philanthropy Days event for nonprofits and grant-making agencies. I helped pull together a presentation on the assets of the region. The Community Resource Center is the sponsor for the event, and they also publish the Colorado Grants Guide, an online resource listing all the foundations and types of projects they fund, which is available for free at our library.

I serve on the Town of Elizabeth's Downtown Advisory Committee, which looks at ways to strengthen and revitalize the downtown area. I use my library research skills to help gather and collate information the committee uses in its strategic planning. I am involved in the Elizabeth Area Chamber of Commerce, where I share information about resources that the library has to offer to small businesses. I am also collecting resources from a variety of agencies that support the business community and will be posting those resources in a central place on our website.

I returned from the library conference with a renewed enthusiasm for the critical role that libraries play in shaping their communities, and grateful to be able to serve the communities of Elbert County in that capacity. I am involved in several key projects that will be unveiled in the coming months - and I hope you will be an active participant in shaping our county's future.

Kari May lives in Elizabeth and is the director of the Elbert County Library District. She can be contacted through the library at director@elbertcountylibrary.org. Visit the library at www.elbertcountylibrary.org.