Hi all! My turn to formally introduce myself. In my two years as a CE Librarian in a new position, my work has shifted from running from place to place and always responding to ideas into careful planning to achieve long-term goals. I’m excited to share some of that process with you all.
Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.
I am Maggie Killman, the Youth Community Engagement Librarian at the Shaker Library. I got where I am now through a combination of luck and a commitment to working with communities. I’ve been working in public libraries for 6 years, and in that time, I’ve always been drawn to projects that utilize partnerships to provide innovative services. In 2016, I was working as a Children’s Librarian here at Shaker when the Youth Community Engagement position was created. It’s been an incredible opportunity to work with colleagues to build a program that enables us to meet our residents where they are and to provide library service that suits their unique needs and interests.
Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.
I work closely with my colleague who is the Adult Community Engagement Librarian. He and I share very similar perspectives on the importance of social capital and targeted community building initiatives, so we worked together to pull research from the social sciences to apply to our work as librarians. We used this research to write a Mission, Vision, and Values for Community Engagement at the Shaker Library, a document which describes our overall goals for our work. Much like an organizational MVV statement, this document helps us direct our activities to engage our community in as meaningful a way as possible.
In a nutshell, our top 3 priorities as “community engagers” are:
- Building community
- Community-responsive library service
In action, this often looks like my colleague and I attending as many community meetings as we can in order to connect with residents and develop strong relationships within our neighborhoods. These meetings also provide us an opportunity to learn about the issues our residents perceive as the most pressing and look for ways to help them* address those issues. Often new connections arise organically from these conversations, helping us expand our understanding of the assets available in Shaker Heights.
*I emphasize “help them” because in my experience, the most meaningful programs and services are brought about through working alongside community members. Instead of deciding what the community might need or like and putting a program together, helping our residents pull together something they do want produces significantly better outcomes. They’re more invested in the program being a success, they’ll bring out their friends and family, and in working on the program they’ll develop leadership skills that will serve them well as community leaders. Likewise, collaborating with partners allows us to reach a wider audience and share resources to provide more effective and accessible services.
We had the opportunity to present our work at the PLA conference last year in a talk titled Building Meaningful Relationships Through Community Engagement. With another year of experience under our belts, we’ll be presenting at the Ohio Library Council’s Community Engagement conference in May.
How has the transition from an internal focus to an external one unfolded at your library?
Slow, but steady. We’re lucky to have an administration that has been focused on Community Engagement since the term started to become popular in library circles. We’ve had an Early Literacy Specialist for 30+ years, a full-time position whose main activities involve providing story times and lending books to area preschools and daycares. We also have a PR Coordinator and a Local History Librarian who work constantly with community partners. And then, in the past few years, the Adult and Youth Community Engagement Librarian positions were created out of existing librarian positions. All 5 of these people meet monthly as a Community Engagement Team, and we keep in close contact about our activities outside the library. We also work together on large or long-term projects that require involvement from multiple departments.
What’s a challenge or speed bump you’ve encountered in this work?
Relationships are so rewarding, but also hard work, and navigating communication among two larger organizations working together can be a challenge.
What are your long-term goals for the work that you do?
I guess I actually answered this at length above (oops!), but I am working on a couple of long-term projects right now. One of the biggest projects I’m working on is grant-funded. In order to support the outreach work of our Early Literacy Specialist, we secured an LSTA Competitive Grant from the State Library of Ohio to develop an Early Literacy Outreach Collection. This collection will live in storage and circulate only to local preschool and daycare classrooms. Currently, the Early Literacy Specialist visits around 45 classrooms regularly, and she may loan up to 600 books at a time, pulled from the regular circulating collection. Many (if not most) of the children she visits in these classrooms are black, but due to the underrepresentation of people of color in children’s literature, our librarians have a hard time keeping enough diverse titles on the shelves, let alone stocking enough to send diverse books to each classroom we visit.
There is a known and oft-discussed “achievement gap” within our public schools, wherein students of color or of economic disadvantage achieve lower scores overall than their more privileged peers. Kindergarten readiness numbers reflect that this gap begins in the preliteracy skills, despite the fact that 89% of all children in Shaker attend a preschool. Inequity abounds. Having a dedicated collection for circulating to classrooms will allow the Early Literacy Specialist to provide tailored collections to support our local early childhood centers’ curricula, as well as allowing her to provide more diverse books for our local children to enjoy. It is our hope that a more tailored collection will promote print motivation across the board for our youngest students and help more of these children acquire the skills that will make them ready for kindergarten. The project itself will take about 9 months to complete and involves teamwork from many library departments: Youth Services, Page Services, PR, Technical Services. It’s a lot of work but very exciting to be creating this new resource to serve children in Shaker.
Who else is doing interesting work in this area (not necessarily in libraries)? Can be an individual or an institution.
Lots of schools in the Greater Cleveland area have created positions to focus on Family and Community Engagement. We work closely with the FACE department at our local schools, and the FACE Coordinator Keith Langford is active in a larger network of family engagers. They organize events, help PTO groups mobilize, and work with many partners to develop robust programming for students in the schools. They even organized a national Family and Community Engagement Conference here in Cleveland last year that was a great success.