How and Why to Team up with your local librarian

This is a guest blog by Noah Lenstra, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Noah has been keeping an eye on how public libraries support walking since 2016 as part of his Let’s Move in Libraries initiative. Contact: / @NoahLenstra

In 1976, public librarian Margaret Monroe stated that “The public librarian may play any of several roles in a community-wide action system: information specialist, catalyst change agent, interpreter of community need, channel to community resource, expert in planning and group process …. The versatile librarian may exercise leadership and bring library resources and services to bear in a variety of ways.” 

Although we in public libraries have known for years that we’re the perfect partners in community development, that word has not yet gotten out as much as it should.

This blog post focuses on how and why walking advocates can do more by teaming up with their local public librarians. In July 2020, I wrote about “Libraries: The New Engine of Community Engagement and Walkable Neighborhood Advocacy.” To demonstrate how that happens, I featured 10 stories of 10 libraries doing just that between June 21 and June 30, 2020. 

This post repeats that structure for 2021, but with a twist. This time the focus is on the partnerships: Who is working with public librarians, and what are they doing with them? By understanding public librarians as partners, you too unlock their potential for your community’s walking movement. 

Partners featured include everyone from multinational corporations to community arts groups, and everything in between, including community foundations, parks & recreation, Main Street organizations, city councils, local businesses, Rails-to-Trails conservancies, environmental organizations, the AARP, environmental resources management departments, and historic districts. 

Working with public librarians, these disparate institutions convene downtown walking tours, install art installations along walking trails, take kids on birding trips along rails-to-trails corridors, enhance the walkability of communities by installing amenities like community gardens, and even build new libraries that are more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists. 

No matter who you are, you should be able to find an initiative below featuring someone like you. Check out these stories ripped from the headlines and get inspired to start a conversation with your local librarian. Get that conversation started using my “Five rules of the road for partnering with public libraries for collective impact.” 

June 21 – Partner: Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank’s Ready Commitment (philanthropic arm of corporation) – Location: Canada – Initiative: The TD Summer Reading Club announces that “over 500 StoryWalk® kits have been sent to participating libraries” across Canada to enable them to sponsor StoryWalk programs along walking trails across the country. 

June 22 – Partners: PNC Charitable Trust and the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County. Location: Delmont, Pennsylvania. Initiative: Library Outdoor Learning Center. The American Library Association’s podcast features Denni Grassel, director of Delmont Public Library, discussing the library’s new outdoor learning center, and the roles it will play in fostering a more walkable community.

June 23 – Partner: Art Walla – Location: Walla Walla, Washington – Initiative: The Walla Walla Union Bulletin reports: “Walla Walla Public Library is collaborating with ArtWalla for a public art walk that includes a keepsake coloring book for kids and a map guide.” 

June 24 – Partner: City Council – Location: Westfield, Indiana – Initiative: Build a new library in the downtown corridor where the library will be “on the trails, so people can ride their bikes there. They can walk,” said Erin Downey, executive director of the Westfield Library Foundation. 

June 25 – Partner: Knoxville Walking Tours (a local business) – Location: Knoxville, Tennessee – Initiative: Knox TN Today reports, “The Knox County Public Library is partnering with Knoxville Walking Tours to provide three, free downtown excursions exploring East Tennessee’s literary and artistic heritage on select Saturdays over the summer.”

June 26 – Partners: Mon River Trails Conservancy and Mountaineer Chapter of National Audubon – Location: Morgantown, West Virginia – Initiative: In conjunction with the release of birding backpacks available to borrow from the library, the library hosted an outdoor bird walk on the Mon River Rail-Trail led by Audubon members. The local paper reports that “Charlotte Chung, a library clerk, reached out to Hannah Clipp, president of the Mountaineer Audubon Association, about partnering with the library.” 

June 27  – Partners: Beverly Main Streets, Leonhard’s Florist, and the AARP – Location: Beverly, Massachusetts – Initiative: The Beverly Public Library announces “Check out the two raised garden beds at the Farms branch. Two families helped plant the flowers this June. The garden beds and flowers were donated by Beverly Main Streets and Leonhard’s Florist with a grant from AARP.” 

One of two new raised garden beds at the Farms Branch of the Beverly Public Library in Massachusetts, made possible through a partnership with a Main Streets organization and funded by the AARP.

June 28 – Partners: Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management Department & City of Boca Raton Recreation Department – Location: Boca Raton, Florida – Initiative: Award-Winning StoryWalk. The Florida League of Cities reports that “The City of Boca Raton’s Public Library has been selected as the winner of the City Spirit Award for its Florida Municipal Achievement Awards from the Florida League of Cities for the Story Walk program. The City Spirit award recognizes a single, specific citywide effort to successfully address a local need.” The press release describes the initiative as follows: “the StoryWalk Program places a children’s book along a popular walking route in the community. Pages of the book are featured in enclosures mounted on posts spread throughout the entire walking route. By the time participants finish the route, they’ve completed the book. Boca Raton has experienced tremendous success with the new program and plans to continue providing it for the community.” Learn more about this partnership in the Nomination Packet prepared by the City of Boca Raton. 

A family enjoys a StoryWalk in Boca Raton, Florida, thanks to an award-winning partnership including the public library, parks & recreation, and county government. Image Courtesy: Boca Raton Public Library.

June 29 – Partner: 8th Street Historic District – Location: Manitowoc, Wisconsin – Initiative: Walking tours of downtown. Meredith Gadzinski from the library explained how this partnership came about: “The staff at Manitowoc Public Library enjoy local history. We’ve helped numerous people indulge their passion for researching local history. In 2019, the library first offered its ‘Historic Manito-Walk’ walking tours, which highlighted some of the buildings in the 8th Street Historic District. We are excited to be again offering these tours in-person this summer and look forward to sharing some of our community’s story with you.” 

June 30 – Partners: Kendallville Park Department, Rome City Park Department, and local businesses Alum-Elec Structures, Wick-Fab, Kendallville Glass, Kendallville Do-It Center, and Kline Builders – Location: Kendalville, Indiana – Initiative: Adventure Trail. The Kendalville Public Library announces that “Library patrons can read ‘Miss Mingo Weathers the Storm’ by Jamie Harper throughout July on the Kendallville Public Library’s Adventure Walk in Kendallville and Rome City.” Learn more about the partners and their roles on the library’s webpage