Back to School: Learning About Your Community

A photo of The Toolbox hardware store by Tim GreenI think a lot about how libraries need find out the best ways to support the needs of specific communities. Often, we do that internally by talking about the teens and families that we know or that we think we know. We do that by going into the schools and talking to classrooms of teens and teachers. But, do we do that by really connecting with the community and finding out what their needs really are? I’m not so sure. Or, maybe I’m not sure we do it enough.

That’s why when I learned about the Community Tool Box I thought, “Wow this is amazing.” And, “This really gives me some good information about how to learn about the community from the community.” My favorite part of the website is the section labeled “Learn a Skill.” For one thing I really like the phrase “Learn a Skill,” It sounds positive and encouraging. But, more than that, the content is incredibly useful.

In the “Learn a Skill” section of the site you can learn about various aspects of working with community members and partners. There is information on promoting initiatives in a community and analyzing community problems. Sections on leadership and management and strategic planning with and for a community. And, there’s a section on community assessment and that’s what I think in this back to school time, if you can’t go through all of the materials on the site, start with this section.

One thing that really stands out to me in this section of the site is that it talks about how people tend to define community. For those working in libraries and teen services the community might be a particular geographic area but it can also be a school that you work with, a group of teens or partners that have a common interest or mission, a group of people that are similar in a particular way, and so on.

The site also includes tools and guides for assessing a community and its needs. You can access an amazing array of tools that will help to guide an assessment process that you might go through. The tools include a community description worksheet, interview guides, checklists, and PowerPoint presentations. There is a wealth of material available and I think it can all come in useful as you work to truly learn about who is in your community and what their needs really are.

As the “Understanding and Describing the Community” section of the site states:

“Understanding the community entails understanding it in a number of ways. Whether or not the community is defined geographically, it still has a geographic context — a setting that it exists in. Getting a clear sense of this setting may be key to a full understanding of it. At the same time, it’s important to understand the specific community you’re concerned with. You have to get to know its people — their culture, their concerns, and relationships — and to develop your own relationships with them as well.”

Why not make one of the things you do during back to school season truly learning about the community you serve? It will most certainly help you to provide excellent service to teens.

If you want to learn more about the communities you work with make sure to follow local Twitter feeds such as the local newspaper(s), city government, schools, community partners and agencies, and so on. Check out local websites to find the most useful Twitter hashtags for your specific part of the world.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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