In September 2013 I was hired as a Community Librarian to work on a rural service delivery project for Halifax Public Libraries (HPL). I was fresh out of library school and beyond having read the Community-Led Libraries Toolkit while a student, had no experience with this type of work. Under the direction of Sara Gillis, Community-Led Service Manager, the six month project aimed to make recommendations on how to provide innovative library service in the Musquodoboit Valley, a rural area of Halifax where there had been a mobile library for 50-plus years and where currently the only method of delivering library materials is through a borrow by mail service.
There were several challenges in using a community-led approach in a rural area not the least of which was the travel required to get to the community. From the library branch where my office is located to Middle Musquodoboit, in the heart of the Musquodoboit Valley, is over an hour’s drive each way. Some of the methods discussed in the Toolkit were simply not feasible in a rural area – going door-to-door for example. Other approaches, such as meeting with service providers for asset mapping, worked very well as did more traditional methods such as participating in community events and outreach.
The community members I spoke with were, without exception, very helpful and supportive of the project providing me with valuable community feedback and connecting me to others who might also have information to share. People were, and continue to be, generous of their time and with their spaces – allowing us to pilot some programming. Over the six months, with the support of talented youth services and adult services staff, we were able to bring eleven library programs to an area that typically wouldn’t have seen any. I also participated in numerous community events and meetings, all with the aim of listening for ways that the library can continue to improve its connection to the area without a branch.
The recommendations in our final report were informed by what we heard from the community during our asset mapping meetings and during casual community interactions. Had the recommendations been developed without community input they would certainly look very different as there are many details that could only be obtained in talking to people directly. The next steps are to begin drafting a service plan and the intention is to continue using a community-led approach going forward. When the library board approves the final report, we look forward to sharing it with you.
One of the main changes to come about as part of the project is that there is now a permanent community librarian assigned to that area. Thankfully, that person is me and I can continue going to 4-H rallies and other fun community events! It’s been an amazing learning experience and I feel very fortunate to have been welcomed in the community and am excited to see what lies ahead.
Halifax Public Libraries