To help me in my job with Fairfax Library Foundation, I just finished visiting 22 branches of Fairfax County Public Library (the 23rd branch has been closed for renovation during my 10 months with the library system). I learned that Fairfax County is enormous and that each branch is a little different—as are the communities. Bottom line, I was impressed. Here are my major takeaways from my great library journey:
1. Libraries are busy
These are a few of the programs and services happening in our libraries that I learned about during my library visits:
Search your family tree, Pajama party for children ages 3-5, Civil War lecture, Pokémon League, Get a Jump Start on College Essays, Chess Club, One-on-one Research and Writing Tutoring, Fun Flicks, Milkshake Music performance, Rainbow Puppet show, NASA program, Meet Animal Heroes, Adult Summer Reading, Tai Chi, Teen’s “Cupcake Wars,” Creative Writer’s Club, Clay Café plus ice cream, Book club, West African music, Magic shows, Teen Advisory Board, The Basics of Sewing, Make Ice Cream from Scratch, English practice/ conversation, Walk-in Tech Help Clinic, Indian dance and music, Time for Tots, Baby &Me!, Percussion performance, Balloon sculpting, Dream Catcher workshop, Make bird houses, Make Minecraft crafts, ESL Book Club, Library eBook tech help, Family sensory story time (adapting to children on the autism spectrum), Learn about and explore trucks, Read with Dakota the Bernese Mountain Dog, Fairytale puppet show, PJ Book Buddies Storytime about Jewish culture, Preschool ‘Mad Science’ science experiments, Gary Lloyd and the Olympic stories, LGBTQA+ Book Club, Ready for School Storytime, Wii Tournament, Board Game Night, ESL Book Club, Neighborhood Plant Clinic, Parenting by Dr. Rene: Learning Disabilities and Special Education, Family Math Games, Life cycle of Monarch Butterflies, Bilingual Storytime, Basic Internet and Microsoft Office Tutoring, Brain Games, Free Tutoring, Laser Cutting and Etching, Basics of iOS, Basics of Skype, Model Investment Club, Summer Pet Safety, Harley-Davidson Show and Tell, Sing with Wolf Trap Master Teaching Artist Sue Trainor, Library Board of Trustees meeting, Heroin: Recognizing the Signs and Seeking Help, International Movie Series, Learn about Japanese culture, 3-D Printing, Tech 101: Skype and Facetime, Informal conversation in Spanish, Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions Program, Basics of Robotics, Read aloud to a trained therapy dog, Basics of coding, Play with LEGOs, All Girls Book Discussion club, All Boys Book Discussion club, Learn about and Plant Sprout Seeds, Learn about Thai Cooking and meet author of cookbook Nongkran Daks, Learn about Social Media, Resume Review Clinic, Practice Interview Session, Aspen Black Concert, Songwriting Workshop, Mother and Daughter Yoga, Adult Coloring, Origami, Affordable Care Assistance, How to Cope with Grief, Polka Music, Martha Washington Inspired Night, Make cars with your child and enjoy a “Drive-in Movie Night,” Create Candy Sushi, Zentangle drawing, “Inside Out” Craft, Eisenhower and D-Day, Brain Health – Normal Aging or Dementia?, Poetry Discussion Groups, Yoga Storytime, Canasta Group, Personal Finance and Investing Group Discussion, Mystery Book Club, Discuss Skills for the Workplace, Teen Art: Comics, YA Lit Book Club for Adults, Build with Toothpicks and Marshmallows, YA Spanish Book Club, Teen Art: Fashion Design, Anime and Manga Club, Visually Impaired Persons Support Group, Writers Workshop, Power Search with Google, Social Security: Your Questions Answered, Introduction to Gmail, As Seen on Pinterest, and Intergenerational Coloring.
To name a few.
2. Librarians are passionate machines
See all those things above that are happening in our libraries? That’s all thanks to librarians, the volunteers they organize and the partnerships they form. But mostly, the librarians are doing it all. And they’re doing it all with great passion for their communities.
And the fact that the library staff can do all this while maintaining regular library services and managing a library collection? It’s extremely impressive.
Go into to your local library branch and thank your librarians. They really deserve it.
3. Fortune 500 Companies should recruit Library Branch Managers
Speaking of the staff, I was particularly impressed by Branch Management. The things Library Branch Managers successfully manage, with the help of their staff:
Diverse product and services (see item 1)
Big target audience—everyone in the community
Organization and distribution of tens of thousands of books
Diverse team of staff and volunteers
Scheduling limited staff to cover many areas of need
Customer service issues
The safety and comfort of the library branch
Maintenance of large, multi-purpose building
Prioritizing limited space for many needs
Managing budgets – they don’t earn revenue in the traditional for-profit way, but they have strict budgets to manage for many needs
Being accountable to a County Government administration AND to every patron, young and old, in the library
Balancing so many priorities with limited resources
The Branch Managers I met do all this and more, and they do it with that passion. I also sat in on a Branch Manager meeting and was so impressed by the tips they shared with the new Branch Managers. These folks could teach the class on Management. Good thing the CEOs of the world don’t know to recruit our librarians! Shhh it’s our secret!
4. Libraries want to serve you
Library management, staff, administration and leadership are thinking of you. Yes, YOU! They want you to find resources, programs and inspiration in the library (and on the library website) that will help you do whatever you need and want to do.
The library is constantly thinking, what does the community want from their library? How can we serve? What needs can we meet? Do we have something for everyone? Who are we not serving the best we can?
For example, one librarian told me about observing certain patrons sitting outside with their laptops when the branch is closed. One frequent customer in particular, a high school student. Why? He doesn’t have internet access at home. So the librarian has been researching ways the library can provide more wireless access to help this motivated student.
I can’t think of many places that want to serve you like this and want to do it for FREE! Well, public school systems. But at the library the curriculum is totally up to you and there’s no homework. Unless you want there to be.
How can the library serve you, and personally enrich your life? Take a minute to think about it, because the resources, programs and inspiration are there for you at your local library.