Posts Tagged libraries

Recap: Chewing the Facts – Serving Diverse Patrons

Homeless person reading in the Tsim Sha Tsui Public Library, Hong Kong. By Stones15woon. Used with permission through WikiMedia Commons.

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, several students and two professors, Laura Saunders and Shelley Quezada (who is also Consultant to the Underserved at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners), gathered in a Palace Road building classroom to discuss the importance and challenges of serving diverse/underserved users in libraries and information centers. Both Saunders and Quezada have taught the Info Services for Diverse Users class (LIS 410). In Quezada’s case, she’s been teaching these types of classes since 1987. Some of the populations that were discussed include kids/teens; LGBT; seniors; disabled; prisoners; ESL patrons; people with learning disabilities; and the illiterate, which can include the technologically illiterate.

One underserved group that may be overlooked are kids and teens. This group can often face age discrimination – one way this manifests itself is through book challenges, usually from their own parents. (This is especially timely because of the recent celebration of Banned Books Week.) The professors remarked that some librarians can be a bit intimidated when helping young people, and training and, in some cases, retraining, can help with some of those issues. Suggestions also included making a safe environment for LGBT teens, by using signage, for example, even if it’s subtle. Also be sure to build a collection that reflects the diversity of your community.

One startling statistic that was revealed at the meeting: Fifteen percent of American adults don’t go online and most of those people are 65 plus. Public libraries are in a position to provide vital digital services to adults who don’t have Internet access at home. These patrons will need basic information literacy guidance. And, Quezada revealed that the MBLC is able to serve only 6 percent of those who need literacy help.

The professors suggested taking advantage of grants to supplement any kind of budget your library may have to help to combat these problems. Joining regional and national librarian groups and drawing upon your fellow information professionals’ experience and knowledge can also expand any limited resources. Outreach is also vital; know your town and their community organizations. Talk to their leaders and find out what their members want from their library. Volunteering can also be another way to find out what an underserved population needs from its library – say for example at the Suffolk County House of Corrections or at an archive that would help diverse users connect with their past.

In towns with no public library but with a university/college library that receives tax breaks, librarians should work on ways to give back to the community. There should be a change in mindset. But Saunders and Quezada warn that there is no one-size-fits-all solution – know your community and tailor your plans to its citizens’ needs. For example, if there is a large ESL population in your community, but there’s no resources or staff for ESL classes, try to start up conversation circles that allow patrons to lead and set their own goals. Go to their turf: Start projects or hold events in cultural centers, housing projects, senior centers and the like.

More tips: Set policy that provides equality – don’t allow teens to sleep in the library if the homeless cannot. And remember not to pigeonhole – a patron can be a member of multiple groups. Advocate for your ideas: Get support from your board and director by presenting a well-thought-out plan. And when you succeed, hold celebrations and bring in patrons to discuss their success stories.

Potential partnerships could include social workers, nurses and teachers. We must reach out to these professionals and train them to refer their clients/patients to us. Librarians should also try to get a seat during their committee/organizational meetings and perhaps assign liaisons with these groups. The San Francisco Public Library even has a social worker on staff that trains formerly homeless patrons to be an “ambassador” to currently homeless and help them navigate the library.

Check out the Thomas Crane Library in Quincy’s literacy program and the Hartford Public Library’s immigration services for some ideas. We’ve also pinned some articles that may spark your imagination on how you can improve access, resources and services to diverse patrons. And here’s an extended reading list we’ve whipped up for you.


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Our Zine Event with Nicole J. Georges

(Cross-posted at Comp Lit and Mediaphilia.)

I was very happy when I came across a listserv email about a zine maker and graphic artist, Nicole J. Georges, who was going on tour for her new book, Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir. I immediately brought the email to the attention of my co-PLG members and suggested we host her for a workshop of some kind. Obviously we did, because I’m writing this, so March 5, we had a most excellent time with her.

We didn’t really know what to ask her to do, so she asked us. Given that we are all in library school but all have very different interests and backgrounds (and some of us are in various dual degrees and library tracks, including archives), we had about eight million questions for Nicole, so a lot of the event was her answering questions and telling us cool things about Factsheet Five, Riot Grrrl, and other groundbreakers in the world of those self-published packets of expression. As she reminded us, zines are perfect if you feel that you aren’t represented in mainstream media, or even if there’s just a part of you that’s not represented, because maybe your favorite music is widely reviewed already, but there’s no perspective on it from your gender identity; or you love fashion, too, but there are no magazines that talk about it in the context of emotional memory. Or whatever. You get it.

I think we meant to start creating our own zines, but somehow, time ticked by, and all we were doing was discussing how zines can relate to library collections, why none of us in PLG (except one person) had been to the Papercut Zine Library yet (oops), how you can make a zine even if you aren’t the world’s most talented comics artist or grammatically correct writer, and how they can especially allow marginalized groups to be heard (oh hey, oral histories of people living in nursing homes). It was probably the most enjoyable two hours of natural, real discussion I’ve experienced in awhile, and it made me think of how much it should be applied to public and school libraries.

Zines aside for a minute, I can’t see a lot of events taking shape like this, but in some ways, they are a lot less intimidating than more traditional events, like lectures where you’re supposed to sit and be quiet and then ask an insightful question at the end, or workshops where you absolutely must make a sculpture along with everyone else. It was audience- and speaker-derived, which meant it was always changing and was, I hope, interesting to everyone involved. It is disappointing that we didn’t have a bigger group of people attending when so many people had asked us for more details, but certainly the weather had something to do with that, and also, I can’t really disparage people for not coming to events when I so often do not go to events even when they sound great. But I wonder, if events like these (meaning less defined, more casual, and less about having to immediately be really knowledgeable or fangirl/boy as soon as you arrive) were more common, would people be more likely to engage in group things at libraries?

It’s something to think about. Formal events, even if you think of them as informal book clubs, can be very intimidating to shy people or to people who are simply still feeling out what it is that they’re interested in. So this sponsored-hanging-out-with-an-awesome-person-and-eating-food was a great alternative to the usual stuff you see on offer.

Also, I’m going to start reading (and maybe even writing) zines again. As soon as I finish my homework. Wooo, spring break! Anyway.

Nicole’s Etsy shop is here, and her work is definitely worth checking out. We all went a little shopping crazy.

–Hannah G√≥mez, PLG@Simmons Community Outreach Coordinator (full disclosure: links are Amazon affiliate links)

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