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Building a Community of Learning Navigators in a Public Library

Colleagues,

I would like to call your attention to a short article by Ed Latham, published today on my blog Adult Literacy Education. You may be familiar with Ed's volunteer nonformal learning project in the Milbridge, Maine Public Library that focuses on using board games for community building, and cross/multi-cultural learning. This article is about Ed's new Milbridge Public Library project that focuses on building a community of "learning navigators," that is, a nonformal group of people from the community who, over time, become skilled in helping themselves, and each other, to find and expertly use community, library, social network, and online collections of digital learning resources to answer their questions and meet their learning needs, whether informal, nonformal or formal. These are not classes, but rather, a regular, weekly group of neighbors who need, and offer peer-to-peer learning help. If I understand Ed's goal, it would be to have this so "institutionalized" that eventually it could function perfectly without him!

I invite you to read the article and comment on it, either on the Adult Literacy Education blog or here.

David J. Rosen

djrosen123@gmail.com

Comments

Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

I just read a local article that shared that the library I have been volunteering at has been rated as one of the best 250 libraries in the country!!!! With estimates of almost 120,000 public libraries in this country, I am so proud of what the Milbridge Public Library in Milbridge Maine has been able to offer it's community. The ratings are based on a number of criteria:

Circulation: The library surprises me with how many new and recent books come in frequently. Some community members donate new books, some come from the board approved budget, some come from authors that are part of local events. Paperbacks and puzzles don't even need to be checked out with a library card. People simply come in and pick up books and leave. Likewise, many people return with even more paperbacks to put back on the shelves. 

Digital Downloads: The library not only buys into the state consortium digital library, they promote reading of these digital materials with tablets that are available for the public to use for free. In this way, they are able to get some authors/titles just through digital because it is cheaper and patrons can still take out a device with that book available on it or they can use their own device from home. 

Library Visits: This is a measure of how many people come into the library during the hours it is open. Every library will have some lulls and some very busy times of course so this is ore of a measure of how many visits per hours open. 

Program Attendance: This one is interesting. With many of the child friendly events that the community knows well, the library is packed with families attending. Since the library is constantly offering new activities, there are other activities that are not as well attended yet, but the numbers of those attending any given even always seem to increase from month to month. With new activities, the struggle is always in educating the public about what the new offerings are and how the community benefits from attending those offerings. As with many small towns, it often takes 3-4 people attending to share positive word of mouth experiences with others to slowly build attendance at any given event. 

Public Access to Computers: The library has Kindles and iPads available which are used mostly for people wishing to read some of their digital collections. They also have almost a dozen computer stations set up for public access. The computers are available 40 hours (see below) per week and the wifi access outside the building. 

Probably more important than any of these measures, Milbridge is one of the few towns in DownEast Maine that chooses to hire a full time librarian. Our librarian has a full 40 hour per week job, as if she were a town employee. The town values the service and potential of the library so much to ensure that a qualified and trained person is available to the public. This is quite a contrast to many of our neighbors that have a skeletal volunteer or part time crew with limited hours. These other libraries are wonderful community spaces, but the lack of people available to keep the building and services open for more than just a few hours a week make their usefulness to the community so limited. When the community is able to have a full time, high quality librarian, there are a number of opportunities that open up in that library. 

Interestingly, in an age where everyone believes that money is needed to make any significant changes in communities, the Milbridge population is more than $13,000 UNDER the state median income. In addition to a wonderful librarian, there is an active group of a few individuals that contribute so much to the activities and resources available at the library. I think we have all had the pleasure of meeting some of those exceptional volunteers that exist in the world and most organizations are always wishing to find more that wish to work with them. Milbridge, as a community seems to offer fertile ground for those volunteers to grow from. The library has 3-4 people that not only run events and activities, they act as community navigators that help bring in others to offer activities and events for the public. 

As people look to bolster their community and community resources, I would suggest we try to pry our attention away from the constant efforts to raise money or to get more and more grants involved and try to focus on how a community grows it's own volunteers. This process of building up volunteers, both in quantity and in quality is a huge challenge in today's time strapped world! As I continue to live and work in this wonderful community of Milbridge, I continue to study and learn about the little things that are done here that help attract so many talented people to work together to make one of the best community resources available. So far I have learned that success is more about the people involved than the amount of money available.