Meet René Bue, Hedberg Public Library

Today we welcome René Bue from Hedberg Public Library in Janesville, Wisconsin. René has a lot of experience with community engagement and looking at the library as a space and resource that extends well beyond its physical walls. Enjoy!

Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.

My name is René Bue.  I am the Programming Outreach Coordinator at Hedberg Public Library (HPL) in Janesville, Wisconsin.  I have been at HPL for 12 years and was originally hired as the part-time Bilingual Outreach Coordinator.  That position was originally part of an LSTA grant.  After that, the HPL board decided to make it a permanent position in 2007.  After a short time, my position morphed to include other cultures.  After the retirement of my direct supervisor, my current position was created and offered to me.

Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement or outreach work.

Community engagement and outreach is a very important aspect of the work I do.  The main purpose or goal is to reach people in our community who are not already library users.  I want to make sure that our community knows all of the services and programs that we offer.  I love getting to show the community that HPL is not only a place to check out books and other materials but also a place where you can: learn to use your electronic devices, get help finding information, attend cultural programs, use databases to learn a second language or some other skill, and many other things.  People are surprised to learn all of the possibilities that exist at libraries.  I enjoy working with other organizations to partner in offering some of our programs.  This all is possible through very active community engagement and outreach…some of which is also done via our bookmobile.

René with a young reader in the bookmobile. Image courtesy of René Bue.

How does that philosophy play out in your day-to-day job?

In my day to day job, I am responsible for planning and implementing our overall outreach.  That means that I must stay informed about the community events where we can have an informational booth or the bookmobile.  I also work with local organizations to offer them space in the library to have “office hours” so that they can more easily connect with their clients and potential clients.

I work with all the departments in the library in order to offer the outreach.  Youth Services plan the outreach visits that they do which include school visits and much more.  Our Teen Librarian does bi-weekly visits to the Rock County Youth Services Center (juvenile detention) and provides books to the youth there.  We now also have our adult librarians doing embedded librarianship within specific areas including business, health, history, literature/literacy, non-profits and more.

I also supervise the Bookmobile Assistant.  Together we coordinate her stops that begin in April and end in October.  This is a great way to connect with many of the underserved populations and get books into the hands of people who have not or will not walk into the library for a variety of reasons.

All of this means that I spend a lot of time out of the library and connecting with people and organizations who can help us connect to the members of our community who do not already come to the library or use our services.  I love this aspect of my job as I get to see a lot of smiling faces when I help people realize how we can help them.

How has the transition from an internal focus to an external focus unfolded at your library?

One of the most recent and important changes for us has been the addition of a bookmobile.  This will be our 4th year taking the library out to the community.  The number of people that we have talked to and helped via the bookmobile is amazing.  There are many people who do not think the library belongs to them.  Still others haven’t been in the library for a long time because they owed money for fines.    Some people think that libraries are only places to check out books.  We help to change those perceptions.  As a result of the work we have done with the bookmobile, we are getting people inside the library for programs, services, and so much more.

The embedded librarianship is also offering us the opportunity to connect with businesses and organizations in the community to demonstrate to them all of the things that we can do to help them.  We already have had a positive response with a lot of excitement about how this work will change the perceived value of libraries.

What’s a challenge or speed bump that you’ve encountered in this work?

One of the biggest challenges is having enough staff to cover all of the events and projects that we want to be a part of.  However, one of the ways we have dealt with this is by offering HPL staff to go outside of their normal job duties and join me or other staff at our booth or on the bookmobile.  This has been fairly popular and a great way for library staff to see the library in a different way…the same as what we hope for the community.

What makes library staff suited to this kind of work?

Library staff are already working with the public.  Our staff enjoys answering questions and helping people who come into the library to find whatever it is they need.  Now they are doing the same thing…just outside the library.

Also, because of all of the community partnering we have already done, we have a great network in place that keeps us on the minds of organizations that offer events where we can have a table or the bookmobile.  Many times, I am invited to have a table at new events because people are so accustomed to seeing us at events in the community.

Who else is doing interesting work in this area (does not necessarily need to be in the library field)?

There are many community organizations that have realized that it is not enough to sit inside their buildings and wait for the public to come to them.  They also are realizing that all of the marketing in the world may not help to get people into their buildings either.  People now want to see organizations like the historical society, the Parks and Rec, local non-profits, school districts and more at events.  It allows them the opportunity to get information, ask questions and do some “one stop shopping” at events that are often free.

Meet Laura Damon-Moore, Madison Public Library

Hey everyone, you’ve heard from me a bit already through a couple of project-specific posts, but Maggie and I want to make sure that you meet us through interviews about our broader community engagement work. To that end, here are my answers to our interview questions.

Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.

My name is Laura Damon-Moore (she/her/hers). I am a Community Engagement Librarian at the Central Library at Madison Public Library in Madison, Wisconsin. I graduated from the iSchool at UW-Madison in 2012, and then worked in small public libraries as a youth librarian doing lots of programming, outreach, and volunteer coordination. In January of 2016 I started my current position at Madison Public Library. That position is much more focused on adults, and is a combination of public service desk work and engagement, which I would categorize as partnership and relationship building, some programming, and project work. Some specific, larger-scale projects that I personally work on include:

Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.

When I first started in 2016, it was very refreshing because it was a new position, so the expectations were very nebulous. I and my one other CE colleague (we are now a team of five!) were just charged with talking to people, no action items or outcomes necessarily. Since those first months, we’ve started to put some projects/initiatives/programs into place, but we work to be very intentional and community-driven when determining how we spend our time. At this point it’s unusual for me and other members of my team to sit around and come up with some brand-new idea that has not been driven or directly led by community members or at the very least, partner organizations. We work really hard not to be prescriptive in our programming and resources. I should note that our team and our approach is very much a work in progress–by no means have we figured out how to do things perfectly 100% of the time.

How has the transition from an internal focus to an external one unfolded at your library?

As a team, we have about two full years of community engagement work under our belts. We are a very new team within Madison Public Library, so there’s been a lot of foundational work done to make, revisit, and strengthen connections. While my core team is based at Central Library, there are other community engagement librarians in many of our eight neighborhood libraries. So a big part of the last two years has also been figuring out who does, and where, and how we support each other’s work across Madison. From what I can tell from folks that have been with MPL for a long time, a lot of the outward facing work was done on an informal basis and by whomever was available at the moment. So the transition has revealed a need to clarify channels of communication, and to get staff organized on the “back end” so that we know our capacity and can respond promptly to community asks.

What’s a challenge or speed bump you’ve encountered in this work?

Identifying community priorities, working collaboratively with community members and partner organizations to determine an appropriate response, while also making sure that we’re not duplicating efforts and not over-committing library resources is challenging, period. It’s a lot to juggle. Communication can easily fall off someone’s radar as soon as you hit a busy time of year, and my capacity can change dramatically depending on staffing levels–someone has to cover the desk. You have to be okay with thinking in three to five year plans. I’ve also run into issues where community wants directly conflict with library policies. For example, we are not supposed to have vendors sell items in the library, but we had a team of community members who wanted to support local vendors at an event, particularly vendors that are women of color. There are workarounds for some of these policies, but it’s also important for staff and the library as an institution to be aware of policies that, in practice, may make it harder to support community initiatives on community terms.

What are your long-term goals for the work that you do?

I really just want to support community endeavors and ideas in an effective and flexible way, to hear from folks about things that are not working well or different approaches, and to have the time and space to make necessary changes to our platforms. So with everything that I work on, I hope I am moving and evolving toward those goals.

Who else is doing interesting work in this area (not necessarily in libraries)? Can be an individual or an institution.

The blog Nonprofit AF has some really terrific articles and perspectives that libraries can learn from, particularly in the area of community engagement. In a lot of ways I think folks working in adult services / public services / reference are showing up late to the community engagement party. Our youth services colleagues have been working very closely and collaboratively with community partners, caregivers, and of course, youth themselves, and they have a whole slew of best practices for us to learn from. And I’ve found that the ABCD Institute, now located at DePaul University, is another solid resource on this topic.

Supporting new citizens with library technology

Greetings, everyone! In this post for the Engaged Library Collaborative, I wanted to highlight a relatively simple but impactful resource that Madison Public Library developed in close partnership with one of the library’s most committed community partners.

First of all, let me introduce myself – my name is Laura, and I am a Community Engagement Librarian for Madison Public Library (WI), based at the Central Library. I work on a team with four other community engagement librarians, all of whom work part time on the public service desk and part time working with partner organizations and community members on different projects or resources.

The partnership I want to talk about today demonstrates a couple of key items in my, and our team’s, evolving approach to community engagement:

  • a willingness to listen and ask questions
  • a collaborative approach to any new program or resource idea
  • a nimbleness internally to use existing library tools and infrastructure when possible.

Where we started

This particular resource started with a question that came to the public service desk: does the library have tablets available for checkout? The simple, fast answer to that is that we do have tablets that can be checked out for use in the library, but not available for patrons to take home.

I happened to be at the desk and got to chatting with the patron, who ended up telling me that she was a staff member at one of our community partners, the Literacy Network, which facilitates English Language Learning workshops, citizenship education, adult literacy and ELL tutoring, computer skills for adults, and lots of other resources. She was asking about the tablets because as it turns out, the USCIS now requires citizenship exams to be completed entirely with a tablet and stylus–including the essay questions. For learners that are brand-new to the technology, these examination conditions add an extra stresser in an already stressful examination setting.

In that initial conversation, which probably lasted 15-20 minutes, we determined a couple of ideal outcomes: could library staff bring tablets to one of the citizenship classes for people to practice with? Could the library make tablets and styluses available for use in the libraries?

I looped in a couple of my team members, both of whom have different tech-related interests, and we got the go-ahead from our supervisor to pursue the idea alongside Literacy Network staff.

What were the results?

After a bunch of emailing and one in-person meeting, we generated the following resource:

The library would make sets of equipment (iPads, tablet stands, charging cables, and styluses) available for checkout for people who are preparing for a citizenship exam. Equipment is only available for use in the library, with a library card. Working with the Literacy Network, we identified five of the nine library locations that are used most frequently by citizenship learners and their tutors, and deployed the tablet sets out to those locations. We ended up spending about $85.00 on the endeavor (mainly to purchase styluses and tablet stands) since we were able to repurpose several older iPads from Central and neighborhood libraries. The tablet sets were distributed to neighborhood libraries with instructions for staff in late February.

One of the comments we heard from the Literacy Network staff is how much they appreciated us actually listening to them throughout the process and more generally, not pitching partnership ideas that they haven’t asked for. Due to connections we had already made at the Literacy Network, we were on very comfortable footing once the idea was raised, and could move relatively quickly. This was a great opportunity to hear about a very clear community need, and to assess library resources to repurpose older technology in support of that need. And on a very positive note, so far a number of learners have been able to practice with the technology in advance of their citizenship exams.

Plans for the future include library staff traveling to the Literacy Network citizenship courses, bringing tablets so that learners who cannot make it to a library still have the chance to see and practice with the equipment before their exam, and also incorporating tablet/stylus training into the Literacy Network tutor training to help build capacity. Additionally, the Literacy Network is helping to spread the word about this resource to other citizenship education organizations in Dane County, so that as many people are aware as possible.

This is a solid, recent example of what is possible when we listen to a partner’s needs and act as efficiently as possible internally. The result does not need to be a time-consuming program, and can still have a significant and measurable impact on our community.

Share your stuff with ELC

Are you a library worker doing community engagement work? Do you have a great example of an engagement tool or initiative that you would like to share on the Engaged Library Collaborative? We’re especially looking for ideas that are deeply community-driven or community-led, and platforms or initiatives that support open dialogue and true collaboration between libraries and community members.

Email ELC editors Laura and Maggie using this form:

We can’t wait to hear from you.

Meet Bryan Voell, Johnson County Libraries

It’s my pleasure to welcome Bryan Voell to the ELC today. I know Bryan from several years of working together (virtually) on the Library as Incubator Project–he is doing very interesting work at Johnson County Libraries in Kansas. Enjoy! ~Laura

Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.

My name is Bryan Voell and I’m the Local Arts Librarian for the Johnson County (KS) Library. I also answer to Reference Librarian, the public service responsibilities of which are the core of what I do. Before starting in this position about five and a half years ago, I was the Assistant Branch Manager for one of our busier branches. When I was hired for my current position, I was asked by my then-manager what I would choose as a focus area. (Each of our nine Librarians have a focus area: Civic Engagement, Careers and Personal Finance, Incarcerated Services, Local History, Reader’s Advisory and Makerspace.) We had never previously had a Local Arts as a reference focus, so this was new to both me and the organization.

What is your approach to community engagement, or outreach, or partnerships, in your work?

Two of my main roles as Local Arts Librarian are coordinator of our Exhibitions program, which brings visual art and artists to our nine branch art galleries; and Local Music (formerly called Listen Local), our online blog that spotlights Kansas City-area original composers and songwriters. Neither of these programs could exist without community engagement and partnerships.

For Exhibitions, we partnered with two community-based arts organizations to create official branch annexes. Those particular branch galleries were given physical upgrades, complete with signage that reflected the partnership. The partnerships essentially work like this: We provide the space, they curate the art, and work with the artist(s) to get the work installed and removed. We see our partners as the experts in their field, people with deep connections to the local arts communities. We are only happy to share our spaces with them.

Local Music - Bryan Voell

Our Local Music project exists in the same way as other local music projects (digital and otherwise) exist. Reaching out to these artists is absolutely essential. We can no longer “just” order music CDs through a vendor and shelve them in Local Music. We must engage with artists one-on-one. This to me is complete joy.

How does that approach play out in your day-to-day work?

Our Local Music blog is updated weekly. This means a portion of every week is dedicated to corresponding with artists, usually via email, about an interview. Where outreach and partnerships really come into play is with programming. We don’t feel the need replicate what is already being done elsewhere. There are several high quality arts organizations just in the vicinity doing great work, offering creative and educational workshops for artists and other community members, studio space, artist talks, etc. It really doesn’t make sense for our library to offer the same programs these other organizations do; but it does make sense for us to collaborate and compliment each other.

Part of my job is meeting with other arts advocates and discovering ways we can work together. Another part of my job is more desk-focused: sending invitations to be interviewed or to perform, putting the blog together, coordinating with artists over email. Last but not least, another aspect of my work is public service-centered. This means working at one of our four public service stations, helping people use our library, helping people find answers, offering computer help, etc.

What do you think makes librarians in particular suited to this work?

Libraries are all about collections and connections: connecting patrons to materials and experiences that may help inspire and educate. They are great hubs for community activity. People use them for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time we are oblivious to the ways the people we serve use our buildings and digital resources, making the opportunity for connections between seemingly disparate things enormous. As Local Arts Librarian, my role as library advocate intersects with the role of local arts advocate. The library is by its very nature a creative incubator. I’m lucky enough to work in a place where Local Arts Librarian is a real title, reflecting the larger values of the organization.

What are your long-term goals for the work that you do?

The goals are cyclical and always need to be tied to our Strategic Plan. For me, goals usually emanate from questions:  How can we make our local music project more accessible, marketable and scalable? How can we work more closely with our partners to enhance the library experience for our patrons? What is my capacity? How do I define what’s working and what’s not?

Links & more:

Give & Take

Give & Take is a simple participatory or social practice art experience that we use with some regularity at Madison Public Library in Madison, WI. The project originated in Minneapolis, by social practice group Works Progress.

Give & Take is a set of activities based around two easy to answer questions:

What do you know?

What do you want to know?

Participants are asked these questions right off the bat as they fill out their name tags at a Give & Take event, and the answers to these questions offer the basis for much of the connections formed during the Give & Take activities.

What I love about Give & Take is that the activities are designed to bring out “every day” knowledge that anyone in the room might have, or know who to ask. It’s not limited to the work that people do professionally, or skill sets that require access to a particular educational or academic framework. The skills and know-how that people share can be anything from “how to fold a fitted sheet” to “how to dress for a funeral” to “how bowl a strike.” Neighbors, co-workers, cross-agency colleagues, classmates; everyone has something to share, something to learn, and connections to make.

The Give & Take activities are written up on a collection of cards and can be shuffled, re-ordered, and trimmed to fit with pretty much any given timeframe, from fifteen minutes to an hour.

Community Engagement Librarians Laura Damon-Moore and Mary Fahndrich facilitate Give & Take for library staff in 2017. Photo by Trent Miller.

Whiteboard results of a Give & Take collaborative activity. 2017. Photo by Trent Miller.

How have we used Give & Take?

  • As a social practice art experience at the library, geared mostly to art-makers and people who are interested in the Bubbler (MPL’s hands-on creativity platform).
  • As an activity to facilitate for organizations and groups looking for professional development or team-building activities. Give & Take is usually part of a morning of activities that also include a library tour and visual or digital art-making workshops.
  • As an experience to share with community partners, for example, as a way to demonstrate know-how connections across a very large group during a sustainability and social change conference.

Interested in learning more? I’d love to connect and hear from you. Please check in via the Contact page and let me know you’d like to try out Give & Take in your community.

Relevant links: