Community meetings to help libraries better serve communities

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A library is an inherently communal space of discovery. It’s a place we venture to find stories, to gather little nuggets of wisdom, and explore elusive pieces of information. Existing to benefit the community, it offers a gathering space and free access to an insurmountable number of resources that some people might otherwise not have access to. It can be a watering hole for students, a land of opportunity for anyone with an open mind and able eyes, and hey, free Wi-Fi!

But it’s no secret that libraries are having to adapt to the times to survive. In doing so today, Tacoma Public Libraries is looking not only forward, but outward. Attempting to transcend their main functional use as a thorough and accessible resource, they are furthering their aspirations as a third place and going beyond by reaching out to become active change-makers in their neighborhoods.

TPL is taking its first steps by holding a series of meetings around Tacoma in an effort to learn how they can do more for the community. There have been three meetings thus far. However, eight more are scheduled to take place between the July 24 and the Oct. 27. TPL says there may be more to come in the fall. The meetings will be held in various community housing centers and community or technical college settings. Karen Meyers, confidential assistant for the Tacoma Public Library System, explains that the meetings are going to be conducted largely as a series of forums. They are being held with the intention of learning about problems in the area from the people who know them best. They’re hoping to get a clear picture of what the community wants by giving people a chance to discuss their personal hopes for the future of Tacoma.

Meyers says that the outcome of the meetings and what TPL staff learns from attendees will act as a starting point for TPL in understanding how libraries can better assist the community. They hope to respond accordingly to the feedback they get and strengthen Tacoma facing challenges as the city moves forward. 

These meetings are an extension of a national initiative by the American Library Association called “Libraries Transforming Communities.” The initiative arose out of the need for facilitated conversation in an age where people too often have become content to agree on disagreeing. “Our divided nation needs conversation now more than ever,” says the ALA, “[a]s trusted, safe spaces, libraries are ideal institutions to lead dialogue and deliberation efforts in communities.” 

Many people think of libraries as a dying breed, but that’s not necessarily the case. Libraries Transforming Communities exemplifies how these public institutions have the potential to be a resource extending beyond books on shelves. “ALA also hopes to shift public discourse away from past themes about libraries in crisis and toward talk of libraries as agents of positive community change.” They refer to the process as a shift from an “inward focus” to an “external.” 

While TPL does acknowledge that they “can’t promise the conversation will lead to a new program or policy,” their attempt to make a difference does ensure engagement of the community in an important conversation. It also shows the dedication of TPL to their hometown. “We pledge to get back to you with what we learned and let you know how we’ll use what we heard,” they promise.

 To learn details and dates of the upcoming meetings go to www.tacomalibrary.org/news/libraries-transform-tacoma.

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