What is a Community Librarian?


Delivery of library services responsive to community needs is not a new concept.  Visit any small public library branch and you will hear patrons greeted by name as they come in the door, and see library staff anticipating and meeting the needs of a community they know well.  Scan the calendar of any large public library and you will find a dizzying variety of programs that reflect the diversity of the people that system serves.  

Most librarians listen for and respond to community needs as an explicit or implicit part of their job descriptions.  So what are Community Librarians and why do we need them?  

Someone needs to be free to go out into the community.

I think it comes down to the number of things it takes to run a library, or even a department or desk at a library, that can keep us in the building.  It would be difficult for anyone without library experience to even begin to grok the amount of work it takes to develop, maintain, process, circulate, and dynamically promote a collection. Librarians who serve the public also have to spend time at service desks, coordinate staff calendars, and take care of the scheduling, management, and human resource issues that are time consuming in any organization.

Not to mention program development and delivery, and keeping up with the rapidly changing times and technology.

Someone needs to be free to go out in the community.  At the Terrebonne Parish Library, for example, there is dedicated outreach staff that focuses on early literacy.  There is also a staff member that continually visits all of the nursing homes in the parish, bringing books to residents, accepting their returns, reading aloud, facilitating facilitating iPad time and access to ebooks and audiobooks.   They are out in the community, but it is a full time effort to meet the needs of the specific populations they serve.  What about everyone else?  That's where the Community Librarian comes in.

With respect to K.G. Schneider, The Free Range Librarian, as the Community Librarian I was (2013-2015) the free range librarian in the Terrebonne Parish Library system.  When I served as the Reference Services Supervisor for the parish (a Louisiana county), I was responsible for both print and digital collection development for reference, adult nonfiction, genealogy, and databases.  I had a staff and desk schedule to manage, and teen through adult programming to develop and deliver.  

As the Community Librarian, I was free to visit schools and businesses.  I could join school librarians at their quarterly meetings, and listen and learn or present at professional development sessions for teachers.  I could easily be a part of a local government committee developing a regional event for entrepreneurs.  I was able to gather community partners to join us in innovative grant applications and represent the library at the local Homeschooling Convention.  Unchained from a service desk and management responsibilities, I could be wherever people were gathering, listen to find out what they might need from the library, and frequently used my mobile phone to renew the library card of the person sitting next to me.  

My role as Community Librarian included

  • Outside sales of library services,
  • Connecting community members and organizations with vital library resources,
  • Building and strengthening community partnerships,
  • Helping the library track shifting information needs and working with library colleagues in any branch or department to recommend changes in services and collections to meet those needs, and
  • Addressing community needs our library director has identified as service priorities that require outreach beyond the scope of our pre-K and nursing home outreach team.

For two years as Community Librarian for the Terrebonne Parish Library, my job included all of that and more.  I did a lot of listening and learning, a lot of experimenting and collaborating, and here I've shared some of the adventures and insights I had along the way.

Have an adventure or insight of your own to share?  Let's hear it!

Jen Hamilton