A major goal of every YA librarian is to increase her market share, that is, to increase the number of teenagers using her library and those teens’ level of engagement in the library. In my experience, the most reliable and lasting way to accomplish this goal is for the YA librarian to actively embed herself in her community.
When I moved to Mitchell, I had no ties to the community: I knew nobody except the library staff who interviewed me, and the only time I had been in town was the one day I drove out for the interview from 400 miles away. From this thin knowledge base, I have in three years fostered connections throughout the community that grew my library’s offerings from 7 youth programs a year to nearly 200, 8 summer reading program community partners to 16, and 0 grants earned in the prior 6 years to 3 in the 3 years of my tenure. I have fostered new partnerships with local homeschool groups, the elementary schools’ teacher groups and principals, the high school science department, the local state park, an assisted living facility for youth, the pregnancy care center, the charity consignment shop, 4H, youth groups at a local faith-based agency, 100% of listed preschools in our taxing district, and more. These successes are largely due to embedding myself in the community.
When moving to Mitchell, I made the conscious choice to become engaged in the community. I leased an apartment in walking distance to the library, shopped for a church, volunteered at local charitable events, attended community meetings, and generally stomped the pavement for the combined purposes of making myself known and publicizing the library. When attending school board meetings, dropping off brochures at preschools, and even when buying groceries, I introduced myself as “Jacqui the Librarian” to give people a person to connect to the library building.
Following the age-old advice that “you have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionally”, I spent the vast majority of my first year getting to know the community’s priorities, concerns, prime movers, and average citizens. I also let them know me, so that they felt they had a personal connection at the library. From there, in my second and third years I was able to make scores of suggestions for collaborations with the library, new initiatives for patrons, and personalized suggestions for library usage. Again and again to every group who would listen (and plenty who wouldn’t), I suggested how the library could assist them in accomplishing their own goals; and again and again, they took me up on my offers.
You too can find collaborative opportunities by embedding yourself in the community. Wherever possible, I would encourage you to live in the same area as your patrons, attend social events that they attend, volunteer with charities that serve your patrons, and always be prepared to represent the library. Wherever your library is and whatever size your YA department takes, you can increase its market share in teenagers present and engaged by building collaborations within your community, to the ultimate effect that you serve more patrons and in more diverse ways, create funding opportunities, and increase community support for your library.