Most, if not all of what we have or make use of comes to us by way of a network. Things like food, clothing, entertainment, medical care, transportation, and our jobs, all are involved with some sort of network. Whether it’s an online search, or a system of delivery trucks, networks are the nervous system of a society, the connected pathways that deliver the goods.
Appreciating networked resources and how dependent we are on them is a foundation for understanding what I call a library community network (LCN). LCN is an idea, a pathway that connects nonprofit resources to the local community and the public library. The centerpiece of this network is a directory listing of local nonprofits.
Typically, a directory listing does just that – list things. This one can do much more. LCN connects people to community-based nonprofits, but it also enables other social pathways. It enables an active network, one that uses human interaction to function. It enhances old relationships and encourages new ones, some that might never exist otherwise.
LCN also makes it easier for communities to adjust resources to meet social, economic, and environmental changes. It enables everyone – residents, local government, and organizations – to see virtually all the resources that are available to a community. Exactly how it does all this is a focus of this book.
Examples of these resources includes things like, volunteer ambulance services, book clubs, food banks, senior centers, little leagues, pet rescue services – everything that can be offered a community by nonprofit organizations.
Discussed here are the three major components necessary to unhide these resources: the local public library (the community center for information), a network that facilitates communication and interaction (LCN directory), nonprofit organizations (and the personal relationships integral to both libraries and nonprofit organizations).
Relationship to discovery
The motivation for writing this book began with some personal questions that I finally got around to answering: Do I really know where I live? Maybe I like where I live, maybe I don’t, but do I feel connected? And connected to what? What, exactly, is there to be connected to? I don’t know why these questions came up – perhaps a desire for something more in my life, or a recognition that I could offer something useful to someone – but they did. And it occurred to me that I was really questioning what community is and what community means to me.
Eventually, this exercise led to some discoveries, among them, that I might have more interesting and beneficial relationships with the community I live in if only I knew more about this place I call home.
You and I probably know a lot about the community we live in, and we know how to find information we need. Ordinary things like emergency services, education, public works, spiritual services, and the public library – these are all designed to serve the community at large. At some point, most of us will use some of them, however, these resources – the obvious ones – are not the only resource options most residents can consider taking advantage of. It’s often the case that there are more unique kinds of services and activities available, things like social clubs, interest groups, hobby groups, elder and infirm help, food banks, and so on. Some of these are well known, and some are not so easy to see.
Libraries know this. That’s why they have increased sponsoring events, and have catalog displays to give exposure to various groups and organizations. These are all good things to do, and are heading in the right direction, but libraries need to go further.
I will use the word resource a lot, as it is a significant issue when it comes to community. After all, if it wasn’t for resources, what would a community be? And it may sound strange to say, but resource options are like money in the bank, where the value of the “money” grows only if you spend it. In practice, however, there’s a problem: most communities don’t tell you where the bank is. It’s up to you to find it.
This book has three main messages.
Adding good things to your life may mean changing your job, or addressing persistent relationship issues, or maybe it means looking for “direction” in your life, getting a hobby, or beginning a spiritual quest. Whatever the motivation, increasing involvement with the services and activities offered by local nonprofit organizations can only aide in a quest. Nonprofits can address a wide range of needs and interests – it’s where the “rubber meets the road,” where people meet the resources and community begins.
Finding something of interest in your community can be a challenge, especially when it’s not apparent how or where to look. Where does one go in order to get a comprehensive view of all that is available where you live? In many communities, there is often no good answer to this question. Resources need a place to gather – a directory (and a library).
Directories can’t do it alone: nonprofit resources need to engage with the local public library. And that means the reference librarian needs to become the Community Network Reference.
Local network vs. the Internet
Google searches, even when they offer a possibility, don’t bring anyone directly to a social connection. What about Facebook and their ilk? Can’t they help promote connections that lead to actual socializing? Of course they can, but they’re not designed to do that (they are designed to not do that).
There are big differences between meeting online and a networking group in a bar or social group. For one, meeting in a social space, like a book club or as a volunteer in a fire station, is more engaging. Online, and connecting in the physical world, offer different insights; they are not the same in-depth experience as engaging on a local level.
A directory listing of local nonprofit services and activities is not socializing either, but unlike online network services, local nonprofit organizations actually exist in your community, and often do connect, person-to-person. One outstandingly different online networking service is Meetup.com, which functions only to bring people together physically, based on common shared interests.
Local nonprofits often function only with human-to-human contact – that’s just the way they work and why they are effective.
Another problem with searching online for local resources is that a community resource listing can easily be buried in the massive numbers of commercial listings, and lost even amongst the larger nonprofit services: a little fish in a big pond. Online social media can show us many things about the communities we live in, but a locally focused online directory, tailored to a specific community, can create a clearer picture of exactly what is available.
There can be many reasons why local nonprofit resources are not visible: Many organizations do not have advertising budgets, they don’t have buildings on Main Street, and they may have limited, if unique, appeal to a relatively small part of the population. One way or another, they’re often easy to overlook.
A directory is a first step
When it comes to resources, you can’t make use of what you don’t know exists. The idea of a directory is relatively easy to describe, however, networking community resources is not. That’s because it is difficult to clearly show how organizations can make use of communication pathways not yet created. The results of the public library and various nonprofits working together and exploring new ways of addressing peoples’ needs and desires are essentially unplanned; they evolve organically.
I can hear the questions: “I get that communities evolve, but still – a directory listing? Isn’t that an archaic idea, what with social media and the Internet? And do I really need to know about every itsy-bitsy-teeny thing concerning where I live?” The purpose of this book is not only to address these questions, but to expand on the idea of what reliance on local resources can mean for the health of a community (including the library).
The idea of sharing resources is not new, but placing public libraries at the center of networked local resources is: it’s a paradigm shift in thinking.
Relationships are recognition
A person making use of local resources – whether it’s a fund-raising bingo game, volunteering at the library, obtaining aid from a food bank, or assistance from business experts – is having a relationship with the community. It’s a reinforcing relationship: your community is caring about you, and you can learn to care about your community. It’s not a personal relationship, yet it is a relationship – part of the process of recognizing we all live together in the same place.
Another result of this give-and-take relationship process is recognition. Recognition can be expressed in many ways, but here we’re talking about community services and activities: when they work, they add something positive to a person’s life.
An individual can feel good when they receive something they value, and the giver can feel good too. In each case, a human-to-human interaction is taking place and that includes recognition, not only of the service value, but of the value of the individual.
Good community planning is about creating structure that enables services to increase positive interactions, ones that effectively promote recognition. When this works, it can lead to a feeling of belonging.