Libraries, the cornerstone of any community, are a place to access endless resources for learning, a helping hand, a quiet place for self-reflection, access to technology and amazing social connections. Our CEO, Troy Myers and Community Engagement Manager, Christina Pottie recently sat down with Justin Moore from Codex to chat about the importance of libraries, community engagement, storytelling and how technology is connected to it all.
In part one of this interview series, we dive into engagement, trust, and the vision for libraries in the future.
Justin: Every library is unique; from the space, to the professionals, to the community members who visit day in and day out. What makes this library, South Shore Public Libraries, unique?
TROY: It’s very simple, we have a very nimble, open minded team where we always find a way to say yes to people. It’s my vision to try to be all things to all people, we don’t have a very narrow demographic we want to serve, we want to serve everyone who lives around here. And we want to see them 3 times a week if not 3 times a day.
Justin: Christina – You must see that. Troy’s vision is something you live every day.
Christina: Oh yeah it’s great. If you have an idea no matter how crazy you think it might be, Troy will say ‘Well pitch it to me and we’ll find a way to do it’. Right now, we have a garden club going on here for kids as young as 1 years old. One of the staff here, Katherine, loves gardening - that’s why. We’re building literacy into it and going outdoors and working in our community gardens. Anything you want to do, you know you have a chance to do it. That’s Troy’s leadership style.
Christina: Troy was saying something about being nimble. Well we noticed this time last year a big influx of teenagers in here, studying right before exam time. We were like… ahh,lets’ stay open late. We didn’t have to do a big policy change. We just went and asked the front line staff if they would be willing to work an extra hour and then we made it happen. We put a few ads on the table, and on social media and bang we were open till 10pm every night during exam week. And that’s simply in response to a need that we saw, we can do it immediately because we are nimble.
Justin: Kids must have appreciated that, was it a full house during that time?
Troy: Yeah it was, the place was packed with kids, the good thing about social media is that even though bad news spreads quickly, so does good news. They were here, it didn’t take long at all. When you are trying to be serious about your school work it’s nice to be able to come to a place and still be social with your friends but you’re all there for a purpose. That network, what we’re supposed to do is provide those real connections as we talk about in our branding.
Justin: Actually, that’s a great segue. I was going to ask you guys about the ‘Original Social Network’,that’s the slogan… has that been around a long time?
Troy: No, I think that sort of came to me when we were at the PLA conference 3 years ago. And there was a sports thing going on, I was reading a sports article about how sport brings people together, and it’s all about you know, getting out on the soccer field or whatever. That’s that socialization that’s real. At the same time people were complaining about Instagram and everything for kids; that is when I said “Wow, that’s what we are trying to be, that’s what we are trying to do, just like sport, bring real people together.” It’s our reputation at the library that we protect people’s privacy and the integrity of the information you get, we take that very seriously. So, I put the two together and said that’s exactly who we are and what we do.
Justin: You guys live by that.
Troy: Yeah. For me it’s a mantra to live by. That’s why libraries are here and as the needs of the community continue to evolve and more and more information digitizes we need to provide that information and knowledge that’s real. If we let it get to the point where all we get is fake news then no one will read it any more. The faith and trust in the institutions really goes down. I think the public library has that role to play as we go forward, we become the truth tellers.
Troy: There was a research report done a few years ago. They talked about how people in North America see public libraries. People didn’t necessarily agree with everything libraries do but when they ranked public libraries and other institutions they have faith in and trust, libraries ranked on top, above government offices, and the medical community. The public library, for trust, was at the top of the heap. Well it just blew me away. We need to maintain that. That’s important you know; that’s valuable.
Justin: I didn’t realize that would be the public view. I mean maybe for the older generation but, that’s a bit of a surprise to me.
Troy: Well, then I want to ask you about Trust. You mentioned your age, I think intuitively you do have a sense of just how trustworthy libraries are. So I’ll ask you some questions. What’s the most important thing to you in your life?
Justin: My family.
Troy: Yeah, your two kids you’ve talked about. So I‘ll create a scenario for you. You’re driving down here, you have to take care of something very important and your kids can’t be with you. You have to choose to drop them off at the McDonalds, the pool, the park, the public library, or the hospital. Which one are you going to pick?
Justin: It wouldn’t even be a thought, the public library and here’s why. I’m sitting in this place, and you are surrounded by people who care. So if I was going to drop off my kids I’d choose a library because I feel like I’m telling somebody who actually would listen.
Troy: See, so you believe it too, that’s the level of questioning they went to in that report. A good public library is meant to be the community’s living room and you should be comfortable leaving your family in the living room.
Justin: That’s a great statement. And you know my kids, to take it a step further, being 8 and 11 wouldn’t think twice about being left here. They would feel safe naturally, because they have spent time in a library on the floor playing when younger.
Justin: My kids, they see a library as a place to go on a Saturday afternoon.
Troy: Well there you go, they are giving up their valuable free time and time is a commodity, and we’re happy when your kids, and good thoughtful parents like you, decide to spend your time here. We appreciate that, we don’t take it for granted. We know people compete for your free time and we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure you spend it here because it’s good for you, it’s good for your kids, it’s good for society and that’s our job, we take it very seriously.
Justin: It’s just not always easy to get the message out, that’s what I keep hearing.
Christina: I think we do have that core group of people but reaching new people is a challenge. We try to be where they are – meet people outside of the building and bring them in. If we connect with kids then maybe they will convert their parents. They may go home and tell their parents, “Hey, listen to what we did, etc.”.
Troy: We just try to build the best services we can to attract the most people we can - even if there are some people we’ll never get. But we need to reach out to just about everybody. If you start the habit early, then children learn about and experience the value-added programming that goes on. You, as a young parent, can gain value as well. While the kids are engaging in programming and you get the break. It’s just nice to sit down.
Justin: I wanted to finish up with what your thoughts are with libraries going forward, I mean we know things are changing, I see TED talks about the change in libraries, what role is a library playing today. So maybe it’s a question: What role, in your opinion, does a library play today and where do you see that evolving in the next 5-10 years?
Troy: Well I would throw it back to your kids, that’s up to them, that’s up to your son and daughter. Our role here is to get to know them and to build a relationship with them, make them feel comfortable and react to what they want. There’s VR, 3D printing and the ant farms. There’s our core services, the books, the magazines, the digital stuff, that will always be there because that’s information, information gets delivered in a whole bunch of different ways. What’s going to change is how we configure the space, the activities we do to connect your kids and other people’s kids to the information. So really, your kids are going to tell us what its going to look like in 10 years and it’s our job to be open minded, and as I started this conversation, for us to find an ability to say yes. It’s their imaginations that are going to define this space over time.
The second part of our interview with Justin Moore is just a CLICK away - Read PART Two now.