Clasper's Corner

By Emily Clasper

My Vision for a Thriving Public Library

I was recently asked to share my thoughts on what defines a “thriving public library”. At first, I thought this was an easy question, one that I would be able to answer quickly and thoroughly, given my constant exposure to amazing libraries of all shapes and sizes. But when it really got down to it, I found the task of articulating this concept to be a tough exercise, indeed. Here’s what I finally came up with. What would your answer be?

If you want to measure the health of a community, if you want to see the community’s very soul, look into it’s past, present, and future, take a look at its public library.
A public library is a mirror, reflecting the community it serves in many ways and on many levels, and in all of its beautiful diversity.

It records and celebrates the community’s past and traditions, while approaching its history with a critical eye, ready to learn and grow from the lessons we learned along the way.
It mirrors the current state of the local economy, the present social climate, mood, beliefs system, cultural climate, and overall zeitgeist of the community and its people, becoming a key element in establishing a shared identity everyone can relate to.

It listens carefully to the community’s aspirations for the future, and works to forge pathways and overcome barriers leading towards those shared goals in cooperation with other organizations, influences and forces at work within the community.

A thriving public library is one that is in sync with a thriving community. It draws its mission, values, aspirations and direction from the community, and nurtures its growth by helping articulate and realize a vision for the future that stretches far beyond the walls of the library’s physical spaces.

Many people would say that the public library is the center of its community, but I would argue that our libraries are evolving from central hubs through which the elements of a community can unite. When a library thrives, it now takes on a more ubiquitous form, creating a mesh that is interwoven throughout the fabric of the community, transforming from a connecting hub to a binding force whose presence can be felt everywhere.

When I visit a community with a thriving library, I can sense it in all areas of the community. The library’s presence can be felt at the playground, where I see a cooperative project between the local garden club and the library has taken shape, and a discovery garden has been built to help the local children grow up in an environment where curiosity and learning are prioritized as core values.
I can see it when the owner of the local pizza shop talks loudly (because that’s what they do) about how Main Street is drawing a lot more foot traffic these days “with all of the events happening around here lately”. You know, those events the library has helped organize to unite community members in shared experience, involving local businesses in the process?

I see a thriving library at work then I enter a town where people facing personal crisis feel they have a place to turn, and residents feel pride in a community they see as “headed in the right direction.”

A thriving public library evolves and changes with its community. It actively seeks opportunities to work with organizations and individuals who can help move the library and the community forward to a future in line with the hopes and dreams of those living there. It listens carefully, paying close attention to the signals our changing society sends to usher in new trends and expectations, continually reevaluating practices, methods, and assumptions in light of these larger societal changes.

A thriving public library makes choices that will ensure a sustainable future for both the library as an organization and for the larger community itself… and beyond. It affirms and supports the efforts being made by other local organizations to provide sustainable solutions in various aspects of community life.

A thriving public library develops its staff as its most valuable resource, empowering them to themselves practice the “lifelong learning” libraries so often cite as a core value. It gives the staff the tools they need to make the library and community a better place, and help them become invested in the process.

A thriving public library engages community members on an individual level and as a whole, inviting them to shape their own experience of their library and their community by assuming ownership and investing themselves in both the experience and the process. It fosters a culture of curiosity and learning, empowering patrons of all ages to take part in shaping the future they want to see for themselves, their children, and their community.

A thriving public library bases its services, spaces, collections, and strategies on the past, present and future of the community, weaving its way through the entire community experience, reinforcing the values shared by the community and the library profession, and evolving along with the needs and expectations of the people it serves.

If you see a thriving public library, you can be assured that the community is thriving as well. And if you look at a thriving community, chances are, you will be able to detect the presence of a thriving public library.