As librarians, we don't simply wait for people to come to us in search of answers. Nor do we look for answers exclusively within the domain of the library. Outreach is the name of the game now. We public librarians visit schools, PTAs, businesses, townships, civic groups, and other nonprofit organizations to achieve two goals: to gather information, and to let others know what we can provide.
Where There's a Need, Meet It!
In this curious undertaking of looking for more work, we at the Cherry Hill Public Library in New Jersey quickly came to recognize that there was a large information need as well as wealth of information resources dispersed and unorganized throughout our community. People seek tax information, which was available at the township and the library. New immigrants and new parents seek information on ESL opportunities, schools, and doctors. People who work away from home every day seek information on what's happening in the community so they can enjoy activities with their families on weekends. Teachers and PTAs seek tools and programs to enhance children's education.
One teacher I recently spoke with told me, "I want a resource that I can send a child to, that can pull together all the resources he or she needs to complete an assignment. And I don't just mean the Internet. I want books and pictures and videos and whatever. And the student shouldn't have to go all over town to find it." Her request didn't stop there. "Our school budget is constantly being reduced," she told me. "We have had to cancel numerous professional journals as a cost-cutting measure. And yet, the last time I was in your public library, I saw teaching journals and read articles that I never even knew existed. I was just skimming and found an article that focused exactly on something that I was doing at school. This is important stuff. It helps me do my job. And it helps the kids too."
I was charged! Challenging needs such as this are validated by the requests of educators and children. Based upon this and similar stories, we recognized that we should work to identify common needs across the community and to gather the resources for them--and to have these resources at our fingertips. The solution should be a multifaceted single resource that would address the communitywide needs of children, adults, and seniors in a multilingual and culturally diverse population.
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