Our conversation catalyst began with the pairing of…

Our conversation catalyst began with the pairing of veteran librarian Christina (Tina) Stewart and freelance librarian Nancy Picchi. We have both contributed to this summary.

Tina, who has served as the director of the Wilmington Memorial Library (Wilmington, MA) for the past 15 years, has worked there for over 30 years. Her devotion to both the library and to her community is apparent from the moment she begins to talk about her life and profession. Nancy, who formerly worked at a small public library in New Jersey and has been a public library advocate for over 35 years, shares Tina’s commitment to public libraries and to the vital role they play in the life of the communities they serve.

During our telephoneconversation last week, we were delighted to discover that we share the belief that the public library plays a vital role in promoting the civic, intellectual, and social life of the communities they serve. In addition, we both believe that our communities and libraries need active and accurate local press coverage in order to flourish.

· Nancy formerly worked in two roles (first as the program & public relations coordinator and later as the Internet coordinator) in a public library whose tagline was “located in the heart of our community”; the public library where Tina serves as director is planning to promote its new tagline “community starts here.” Both hope that the Beyond Books confab will provide specific ways to engage the community so that these concepts ring true in the minds of residents who live there.

· Tina pointed out that both voter participation and people running for elected office have declined in her community. She asks us to consider “What is the library’s role in creating a higher level of civic engagement?”

· Nancy emphasized the importance of the library having a strong virtual presence and recommended that the library’s web site have links to a wide range of community and governments services. She feels strongly that libraries should provide the resources and guidance to help community members connect with local, state, and federal government and services.

· Tina’s library and Nancy’s former library both feature well-used local history collections. In Nancy’s former library, journalists for the local newspaper make frequent use of the local history collection and of the local historians and librarians who help organize it. Tina noted that the owner of the local newspaper in her community has agreed to allow the library to digitize retrospective microfilm of the newspaper as well as future years. Tina suggested that “local newspaper publishers need to be amenable to these kinds of agreements, which make local news and history more accessible to members of the community and beyond.”

· Tina noted that “the online ‘Wilmington Patch’ (http://wilmington.patch.com/), which went live in November 2011, has done an excellent job of reporting local news. Since the local print newspaper is a weekly publication, Patch has the advantage of reporting news as it happens. The Social Media coordinator for Wilmington Patch reports that ‘Wilmington has catapulted itself into the 3rd highest ranking in visitors for the entire state.’ Obviously people want to know what is happening in their town and are using online resources.” Tina also pointed out that if online newssites like Patch become the main source of local news coverage, the library may need to provide the computers and the computer skills to ensure that the majority of residents can access online news services such as Patch.

· Nancy indicated that libraries should focus on offering something to their community that no oneelse is offering: “In addition to providing a wide range of print and electronic resources, libraries can remain a vital part of the community by being that central place where people of all ages, educational levels, and political and religious beliefs can meet to share ideas and conversations about a wide range of issues. One way to do this is through book discussion programs that ask all of the members of a community to read and discuss thesame book. Another way to accomplish this is for libraries to offer community-wide courses based on open education resources. I explored this idea in a 2008 paper entitled “One Course, One Community: Engaging Lifelong Learners though a Partnership between Open Education Resources and Public Libraries.”

We look forward to continuing our conversation in person at the Beyond Books conference – and to extending it to include all of you!

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