Tomorrow is a new year. Some would even say a new decade (though we know that technically that’s not until 2011). Either way, it’s a time of year when people get introspective and think about how they can work to improve their lives and the world around them.
Maybe your resolutions this year involve getting and staying fit, reconnecting with friends, furthering your education, or getting rid of some bad habits. Those are all admirable things, to be sure, but I’ve got another resolution you should add to your list.
In 2010, make a resolution to support your local library. Not sure what supporting your library means or how you can do it? Read on for a few tips.
Step 1 – Find out who your local library is and where they’re located
Okay, so maybe this one is a no-brainer. After all, if you don’t know who your library is, or where they are, that makes it tough to support them in any real fashion. There are a lot of ways to souse out your local library. One that I like for being pretty universal is the National Center for Education Statistics “Search for Public Libraries” page, located at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/libraries/librarysearch/.
You can search by name, or by city and state, but the easiest method is probably to enter the zip code or your home or work, and search within a mile radius (I recommend starting with 10 miles and then expanding outward if you don’t get any results). Chances are there is a library closer than you think.
Step 2 – Get a library card and use it
Now that you’ve found your library, the easiest thing you can do to start supporting it is simply to use it. Go and get a library card, and start checking out materials and finding out about services.
Before going to get your library card, it may be helpful to call your library and ask them what their policies are. Some libraries require photo IDs for adults, and almost all require some sort of proof of current residence (and within their service area). Calling ahead of time can save you a trip home to get a piece of mail or ID that you forgot the first time.
Once you have your library card, using it doesn’t just mean checking out books. First off, libraries these days have a whole lot more than just books that you might want to check out. Most libraries also carry movies on DVD (among other formats), music CDs, audiobooks, and a ton of other materials. In addition to physical materials, libraries also offer a ton of electronic resources via their web sites that you will need a library card number (and often a PIN as well) to take advantage of. Downloadable audiobooks are one hot example right now, but premium databases, homework help services, and other materials may also be available through the library website, and it’s worth asking about while you’re there so that you know what’s available and what you need to do to access it.
Step 3 – Spread the word!
After you’ve used your local library for awhile, you’ll be overwhelmed with how totally rad it is. How did you not know about this before!? Nobody told you! Don’t let your friends or community miss out like you did, spread the word. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook are a great place to say how much you like your library. Even small messages can serve as reminders to your friends, like “Just checked out some great new books at the library and now I can’t wait to read them!”
Better yet, drag your friends along to the library with you, either for a normal “I need to check out some books” visit, or for a special event like a magic show, book reading, or rock concert. (Yes, some libraries do have rock concerts.)
Step 4 – Join the Friends of the Library
Most public library have a supporting non-profit group called the “Friends of the Library“, who perform various functions in service to the library. Friends groups often run library book sales, sponsor fundraising events, help out with various activities, and even purchase materials for the library. One of the main roles for Friends of Libraries, though, is to serve as advocates for the library within their community.
The Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF) has a thorough list on some of the things you should know about joining a Friends group, or starting one in your community, on their site at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/altaff/friends/factsheets/index.cfm.
Step 5 – Volunteer at the library
Public libraries are terminally underfunded and understaffed, which means they make their first priority to keep their doors open as much as possible, and other things get pushed to the wayside. This leaves a lot of wonderful services for volunteers to contribute to their libraries. Take, for instance, this testimonial and thanks from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh:
Our faithful volunteers often work behind the scenes—looking for missing books, repairing damaged items, shelving, making displays or booklists, marketing library programs, hosting language clubs and so much more. Some volunteers are able to give an hour or two every week for 6 months, while other volunteers have given the library decades of their time and talent.
Many public libraries are understaffed in these difficult times, and volunteers who contribute a couple of hours per week make such a difference in the quality of service a library can offer customers. While volunteer work cannot take the place of professional library staff, it can free staff to work on projects that normally get pushed to the sidelines.
If you have ambitions to work at a library, volunteering is the perfect way to get your foot in the door. Even if you don’t, your service as a volunteer will be very, very appreciated, you’ll get to see the library from a different perspective than most library patrons, and you may even find some hidden perks (like knowing when the hottest books are going to hit the shelf before your friends do).
Step 6 – Join the Library Board of Trustees
The penultimate step in supporting your library (just below actually running the place yourself) is to join the library’s board of trustees. Trustees assist the library administration in top-end planning and policy-making decisions, and generally work to help the library make sure that the things it is doing are in direct service to its local community.
There are a limited number of trustees on the board at any given time, and getting on the board isn’t as easy as just saying that you’re interested. Board members are often elected or assigned, but if you really want to get involved with your library at a high level, this is the way to do it.
Step 7 – Become a librarian
The librarian profession isn’t for everyone, but if you’re so excited about libraries that you need a new way to get involved, this is the next logical step. Becoming a real, live, professional librarian means going to graduate school, so be prepared to spend a couple years and some cash getting educated.
Check out the American Library Association’s list of ALA-accredited programs in Library and Information Studies to find a school near you.
A website called geekthelibrary.org suggests some other great ways to be a positive force in your local library community.
Whatever you choose to do, good luck with all your resolutions, and I hope to see you in the library in 2010.