Is Everyone Welcome at Your Library?

Primary author: Susan Green

Let’s look at ways we can find out who is not coming into your library.

What is in this tool?

This tool will help you identify who is and is not using your library, and evaluate your current library practices to ensure inclusion.

Let’s look at ways we can find out who is not coming into your library. I work as the director of a small rural library in Vermont. When I first came to the Jaquith Public Library in the summer of 2009 I was so excited to be working in the town where I have lived since 1971. During my first year as director, I started to notice many of the people in my community did not come to the library and I wondered why. I decided to make it my business to find out. I wanted to identify who the library was not serving in order to better meet the needs of my community and make sure we were not unintentionally keeping people away.

LISTEN: “I would like to see diversity. Diversity in all areas: race, income, religious beliefs” –Sally, interview #5-2-12

Who are you serving?

Why do we need to know who we are serving and why do we care? There are many reasons but here are a few:

Ethical: It is only right to make the doors to your library accessible to all and to encourage all to come. It is wrong to make certain groups feel unwelcome.

Diversity: To build empathy and understanding, it is important for people of all socio-economic groups and walks of life to intermingle. This is a fundamental role of your public library.  Remember, diversity comes in many forms, and even if the community does not describe itself as diverse, it really is.   

Delight: Everything is more fun when we do it with different types of people. We invite new kinds of programs and new interests and ideas for books and materials we would not have thought of on our own.

Financial: The more patrons you serve, the more your library will be seen as essential by the community and subsequently, funding for your library will be approved without budget cuts.

Involving trustees and community members in each of the following steps will help paint a more complete picture of the community.

At my library in Marshfield Vermont we spent a summer celebrating different cultures during our summer concert series and community suppers. We had a Caribbean Steel Drum band, a band doing Latin music, a Klezmer band, a French Canadian band, a jazz band and a soul music band. We asked different people to head up a theme for a supper and for six weeks we explored foods from different areas of the world: Asia, Africa, Italy, India, Mexico, and Canada. The people at the suppers were delighted with the food and the cooks who prepared the dishes from their favorite recipes were excited to share food from their diverse cultures.

We also held a program called “Showing Up For Racial Justice: Living Room Conversations About Racism”. Once a month we held thought-provoking conversations about racial justice around topics such as ending racism in our communities, talking about racism with our friends and neighbors, the movement for black lives, tracing our ancestry and immigration, free speech in the time of Charlottesville, practice session to interrupt hate and talk about racism, and ending white supremacy in our hearts, minds, and community.

Further Resources

Once you have done the hard work of transforming your library into a more inclusive space, it is time to look at the systems in the wider community that mean some people have more of a voice than others.  Try the tools Building Local Political Knowledge and Voice, and Awakening to Community Potential. 

Want to learn more about accessibility issues specific to the blind? Read the guide Visual Accessibility.