Competency C – Demographics

…recognize and describe cultural and economic diversity in the clientele of libraries or information organizations

Introduction

Libraries must proceduralize best practices to prepare to serve heterogeneous populations seeking various and vital information resources, programs, and services. In order to “provide access for all,” libraries must consider multitudes. If, as Walt Whitman tells us in his poem “Song of Myself” – “I contain multitudes” – just imagine the diversity involved in the collected billions of selves that comprise the base of library user services. (ALA, 1996) (Whitman, 1892, p. 72)

Users of all ages frequent public libraries and represent a variety of cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic brackets that impact the ways they use library services.  Library professionals must consider these variables to best serve user needs.

One of the social impacts effecting library services is age. Typical library programming for children includes story hour, crafts, summer reading, and themed events that focus on children’s literature. Children’s service areas often feature specially designed play areas to involve and extend learning through play.

Just as children’s areas are designed to foster their developmental needs, so too do teen areas need to consider the developmental needs and assets of teens. Creating comfortable, friendly spaces is a valued and vital means of providing quality library service. Teens often need comfortable, flexible seating that promotes movement and group collaboration. In their Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth, YALSA (2010) recommends that YA staffs “establish an environment in the library wherein all staff serve young adults with courtesy and respect, and all staff are encouraged to promote programs and services for young adults.” (p.4). Teens are peer-to-peer learners who tend to travel in groups. They are part of a participatory culture that provide support, analysis and apply critical thinking skills while evaluating peer projects. As an underserved age demographic, teens represent a critical age group that could benefit libraries with their tech savvy skills and peer-to-peer learning capabilities.

Seniors also comprise a significant library user group, and use libraries to borrow books or DVDs, access the Internet, and quietly enjoy the newspaper, among other information needs. Senior programming includes digital literacy, book groups, sewing or knitting circles, and other craft-related activities. Some branches also feature outreach to skilled nursing facilities or assisted-living centers to improve library access for homebound, disabled or other remote-access patrons. One way that ALA (2012) recommends “libraries eliminate barriers to access for older adults” is to “design library spaces for accessibility, including clear aisles and pathways, available seating, accessible shelving, [and] easy to navigate entrances.”

The cultural composition and diversity of library user groups is another critical consideration for library professionals in order to meet the user needs of their respective communities and maintain a vigorous library service. Libraries reflect diverse cultural needs by acquiring and making findable bilingual and multilingual resources that match user needs. Due to shrinking library budgets, it would be impossible for all libraries to acquire resources in all languages, so collections are mostly shaped by the predominant languages in a respective user community. Libraries also plan and implement programming for English-as-a- Second-Language patrons, some of which include ESL classes and digital literacy classes. Cultural awareness programs are also a great way for libraries to meet the cultural needs of their user communities.

As language barriers are considered a major obstacle for patrons to request reference services and access information, many professionals agree on the advantages of bilingual and/or multilingual service librarians. Li and Rice (2012) write, “Although libraries strive to reflect the communities that they serve, there is a wide cultural and linguistic gap between the people behind the desk and those they face on the other side.” This gap is an opportunity for libraries to recruit more librarians of color, and also creates the need for current librarians to augment existing language skills. As lifelong learning advocates, library professionals are well-suited to the need for continual professional development.

Another critical element impacting library programming and services are patrons’ economic situations as they shape users’ information needs. Our current economic climate indicates a significant increase in library usage, due in part to the “digital divide.” (Jansen, 2010). This divide refers to the disparity between how users in lower and upper income brackets are able to access information. Many lower-income populations do not have home Internet access, and as such rely on library computer access for various reasons. This is compounded by our society’s increasing dependence on virtual services to complete basic tasks like paying bills or corresponding with friends. Yet, to job-seekers, economic impacts are felt most significantly as employment applications are often only available online. As such, lower-income user groups recognize the library as a critical asset to shaping their future.

Library resources, programs, and services are all shaped by the social, cultural, and economic compositions of our user communities. The diversity of our library patrons is the foundation for maintaining our robust and vital service.

Evidence

Libr 261_Rationale for Training

My first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency C is a short paper I wrote for LIBR 261-A: Programming and Services for Young Adults in which I assess the teen space of a local public library in terms of teen developmental needs and assets as well as specific needs of the local teen community. This paper demonstrates my competency in applying my understanding of teen needs to provide outreach to a underserved population, and suggests new ways of engaging teens. As avid users of mobile technology and as content creators, teens are in a unique position to benefit from online peer-to-peer interaction, and present libraries with special opportunities to provide virtual spaces just for teens.

Libr 261_Teens Gone Mobile_PPT

My second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency C is a PowerPoint slide presentation I created for my LIBR 261-A : Programming and Services for Young Adults class, in order to support my previous evidence: Rationale for Training. This presentation builds on the initial study and assessment I performed by highlighting signature teen characteristics that merit representation. In this presentation, I suggest ways to reinvigorate and advocate for teen library services. This paper demonstrates my competency in understanding and explicating how teens are generally underserved in libraries. I also suggest implementing sensitivity training sessions for all staff to “incorporate teens’ developmental needs/assets as foundation for understanding teen behavior” as well as “to advocate diversity and reduce harassment.”

Libr 204_Managing Diversity

My third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency C is a short paper I wrote for LIBR 204: Information Organizations and Management in which I discuss the benefits of implementing an ongoing diversity training program for library staff. As a manager, I describe how a cooperative and supportive training program would be self-sustainable and boost employee morale. This paper demonstrates my competency in designing a future diversity-training program that integrates self-reflexive ideologies and experiences with new concepts gleaned from professional literature and LIBR 204 coursework. These concepts include conflict-resolution and effective communication skills.

Libr 210_Contact Zone Theory

My fourth piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency C is a short paper I wrote for LIBR 210: Reference and Information Services in which I discuss and apply James Elmborg’s (2006) “contact zone theory” to reference services. This paper demonstrates my competency by integrating concepts about diversity-training I gleaned from LIBR 204 over two years ago, and applying them to reference services. In this paper, I discuss the advantages in “involving patrons in the design and layout of the reference space” by “incorporating the diverse cultures, ideas, languages, and identities” of the community. I also consider ways to remove barriers to reference services, and meet the various needs of heterogeneous users that frequent and/or avoid the reference desk.

Conclusion

Libraries must consider the diverse populace that comprises their patron base in order to remain relevant and useful to their user communities. In doing so, library professionals provide access to myriad information resources, services, and programs that reflect their social, cultural, and economic needs.

References

American Library Association. (1996). Library Bill of Rights. Accessed September 19, 2012: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill

American Library Association. (2012). Outreach Resources for Services to Older Adults. Accessed September 24, 2012: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/diversity/outreachtounderservedpopulations/servicesolder

Elmborg, J. K. (2006). Libraries in the Contact Zone: On the Creation of Educational Space. Reference User and Services Association Quarterly, 46(1), 56-64.

Fisher, H. (2003). A teenage view of the public library: what are the students saying? APLIS: Australian Public Library and Information Services, vol. 16 no. 1, pp. 4-16.

Jansen, Jim. (2010). Use of the Internet in higher-income households. Retrieved September 24, 2012 from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Better-off-households/Overview.aspx

Li, Haipeng; Rice, Janice M. (2012) Libraries and the Demographic Shift. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/haipeng-li/libraries-and-the-demogra_b_1884123.html

Whitman, W. (1892). Song of Myself. Leaves of grass. New York, NY: Bantam

YALSA. (2010). YALSA’s competencies for librarians serving youth: Young Adults deserve the best. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/yacompetencies2010

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