I realize the scope of what I present is sometimes outside your job description or what your director will allow. And that I have an incredibly understanding fiancé who rarely grumbles through my 14 hour days and Sunday social activities in the library. So bear with me on this one, but I propose that you have so much more to offer your patrons than just what you learned in library school.
Okay, so you youth services folks are nodding and saying “duh.” But I’ll bet some of our academic brethren are saying, “what?” and “when will I have the time?” and “but there’s so much to do!” All true, very true and I cannot argue with that. Nor am I suggesting you work beyond the tremendous hours you already do. But I am suggesting you take note of special skills and education you have, outside of Libraryland, that you could offer your patrons.
Public libraries already have knitting and book clubs, why not academic libraries? That’s an easy enough place to start. Or go beyond. I know a librarian who ran track in high school and joined a campus marathon training club. It gave her a chance to get to know students personally and provide mentorship through something she loved. It helped break down stereotypes of librarians and showed the students she cared about their lives beyond finding credible sources, something imperative to good relationship-building.
In my former career I facilitated diversity trainings with a co-worker. We developed some models for conversations about privilege through interactive exercises. I casually mentioned this to the diversity coordinator in our Dean of Students office one day by way of making a connection between personal interests. I’ve since been tapped to help coordinate and put on diversity training for resident assistants and student leaders.
Last week I put on a hall program for a student residence hall. I shared my personal experience with an abusive relationship in college and then directed them to helpful sources online for healthy relationships. It seems like a risky move, sharing such personal information, but I’m glad I did. First, it helped break stereotypes many people hold about to whom domestic violence happens. It also humanized me to them, making me more accessible to them as a person. And I could share information with them that is important in context. By sharing this information in a structured setting, I could control the message and how the students viewed me.
Offer to give speeches about topics you care about to student groups or classes. Share your love of collage art or running. Host discussion groups in the library. Break a few boundaries and I think you will find it makes a positive difference.