Challenge Monday: Know Your Community

As much as we get excited about programs that we’ve developed and that seem so cool to us (OMG coding!), it’s extremely important to step back and face the truth of some cold, hard data: community data.  Maybe you received funding for more tech-centered programming(awesome, by the way) and you want teens to bring in their own devices to sync up and work together … except maybe your community is information-poor.  Teens simply might not have the means to afford a Game Boy or a Minecraft license.  This recent report, published by the Southern Education Foundation reveals that over half of U.S. students are at or below the poverty line.  Is that true in your community?  Or is it the reverse?

In order to keep our programming vibrant, it’s so important to try new things and inject yourself into the programs.  At the same time, you have to know about the community you’re serving, because that can really make or break the success of your programming and overall service to the teen community.

Resources for Crunching the Numbers

You want to get some quick facts about your community?  Check out these web tools:

  • QuickFacts from the U.S. Census:  Yep, all that paperwork that asked you how many toilets your household had can really help you assess community demographics!  For example, using my city as an example, I can see that Latinos are the largest minority group, followed by African-Americans.  So, I’d want to make sure I have a good selection of young adult literature in Spanish.
  • If your library has access to it, Reference USA allows you to look at data from your community that is sorted by “lifestyle.”  In the “Consumers/Lifestyles” database, plug in your city, state, and what sort of lifestyle information you’d like to obtain.  I selected books, but you can do travel or crafts or anything that you think might affect program attendance and interest.  The database sorts the resulting names based on frequency of purchases in that particular category.  Obviously, this is not exceedingly precise, but it’s a handy tool for getting an overall picture of which areas of your city spend money on specific interests.

Brainstorm and Reflect

This brief list of community-related questions, published by the Idaho Commission for Libraries, is a great jumping-off point for brainstorming.  After reading it, can you fully answer all the questions?  Or are there some aspects of your community that you realized you really don’t know much about?  It’s okay not to know everything at first–the important thing is that you work hard to understand your community.  So how do you do that?

Get Out!

While statistics can give you a broad overview of your community, numbers alone cannot define what makes your city a community: a fantastically tangled web of people, cultures, and beliefs that come together in a unique way.

  • Make it a point to get to know your regular teen patrons and what concerns or interests them.
  • Be aware of local events or festivals.  For example, we have a downtown community event called Second Saturdays.  Each month has a different theme, so the library can create activities at our downtown location to coordinate with the city’s chosen theme.
  • Be a quasi-secret TSU agent and get into the schools!  Even a quick booktalk in a few classrooms builds awareness of the library and gives you a chance to see the composition of the classes.  Are a bunch of kids wearing sports uniforms/jerseys?  Maybe it’s time for a library field day or a Madden tournament!
  • What’s the history of your town?  Is it a true melting pot of many different nationalities?  Is there one nationality that predominates?  A sizable chunk of Kenosha’s immigrants came from one particular town in Italy.  Mostaccioli and Italian beef are staples at gatherings–how about hosting a teen cooking tournament or recipe wars?

Finally, Look Inward

Do you notice a trend in certain books or genres always being checked out of the library?  If patrons can submit purchase requests, do you notice a trend in the type of books they’re interested in?  If you do notice a trending interest, why not try a book discussion or book club centered on that particular genre?

Don’t worry if at first, no one shows up for your program.  Believe me, we’ve all been there.  Sometimes the universe throws you a curveball and things just don’t work out.  However, teen patrons will definitely notice your efforts.  If you produce a schedule or calendar of events, they’ll see that you’re offering more programs tailored to them.  They’ll see you at schools and other community spaces.  Simply raising awareness of the library in the community as a whole will greatly impact your teen programming.

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