Guest Post: Hamish Lindop – Buying Library Users A Birthday Present

Today’s guest post comes from Hamish Lindop, who is Reference Librarian-Learning Services at Auckland Libraries, but has also turned his hand to numerous special projects in the city this year – from street promotion for our Dark Night festival to behind the scenes work on our 2013 Children’s and Youth Service conference, “the hui of awesome awesomeness”.

Auckland Libaries Youth Hui

The hui was a huge success, bringing together librarians from across New Zealand and Australia for panel discussions, hands-on Nerf-gunning workshops, and a teen space which attendees could visit to experience youth librarianship in action. You can follow the discussions via the Storify page created by Auckland’s own social media maven Tosca Waerea.

One of the biggest tensions I sensed at the hui was between the need for librarians to be courageous and creative, and the tendency of managers to struggle as they balanced this creativity with the demands of administration and the bigger picture of the libraries’ business plan. It’s very hard to not take bureaucracy personally when one is also being directed to be passionate and innovative…

Hamish has done some work reconciling these challenges with a wonderful common-sense analogy: buying our communities a birthday present.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how a public library can deliver the best value to the community that it sits in. The answer that I have come up with is this: we can get the community a birthday present. This is my favourite analogy for how to synthesize listening to your community, and innovating to surprise and delight them.

The problem, which you’re probably familiar with, is this: if you’re developing a new programme or service to deliver in the library, you don’t just want to do it all alone, sitting inside your library building, basing it on what you think might be good, because what you think is good and what your people in your community think is good is probably really different. So, what could you do next?

The first apparent answer would be to go out and ask people what they want from the library. But then no one knows what they want from the library, apart from what they already get. This is just like buying a birthday present for someone. You can’t just ask them “what do you want for your birthday?”, because they probably don’t know. But you know things they like, or things that they really need but don’t have, so if you really ponder the problem, you can probably come up with something that will be perfect for them.

Try applying that to your library: you probably know your regular users pretty well, and if you get creative, you can come up with something that would make them think “wow, I didn’t know that we could do something this fun and interesting here!” Makerspaces, maybe, or Chalkle, but these are just examples; it’s about finding the particular things are what your community will respond to. But, the other trick is finding out about the people who aren’t regulars in your library; these are the people who haven’t found library services attractive or engaging.

That’s a bit more challenging, because it means you might have to find ways to engage people outside your building to find out about them: outreach.

Secret SantaThis is a bit like when you have to do Secret Santa for that guy in the office that you barely even know. So what do you do? You could talk to him and find out about his interests, or talk to other people about him to find out what they know. This means librarians going to places where people meet, like community groups or spaces, to engage them in conversation and find out about what they are doing and how the library could collaborate or provide for them.

State Library of Victoria’s Learning Manager Hamish Curry, at the recent Auckland Libraries Youth Hui, implored us to “Network like crazy”, suggesting to look for meetups (as in and attend them. This could be a good way to insert yourself into a conversation with groups you want to target: he commented that people are always surprised to find out that he’s from the library, and would like to find out what they’re up to and if he can collaborate with them by offering a library space or service. This might look a little bit like embedded librarianship – the trend of taking library services out of the library institution and into new settings and partnerships. 

This kind of work is way outside the box for most of us librarians, but if we want to increase our relevance and value to our communities (especially groups who are currently disengaged), and increase the support they have for libraries, amplifying it until it rings in the ears of decision makers, then it has to be No. 1 on our list of priorities.

Thanks to Hamish for an awesome guest post. To read more from Auckland’s Youth Hui guest speakers, read these blog posts by Hamish Curry of State Library of Victoria, Chris Cormack of Catalyst IT, and Adrienne Hannan of Wellington City Libraries – or visit the hui’s own Storify page. 

Shake your eggs! at Auckland Libaries Youth Hui 2013

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