Getting a Seat at the Table

Getting a Seat at the Table

How do you make sure that your library is well represented and an active participant in the process when resources are allocated for community services? WebJunction members share their experiences and advice.

So you've been showing up at your local city council and community service cabinet meetings, making sure everyone knows about your library and the services you offer to the community. And by now you've made yourself an invaluable part of these groups. How do you turn this into a seat at the table?

As Conrad Rader of the Niles (MI) District Library points out you may even have to make the table:

The key to our success has been in taking the lead in creating the table to sit at.  By approaching other agencies and inviting them to participate in our activities, we become the leader of the movement.  By forging ahead with this leadership position, we have the opportunity to raise our profile in the community by being known as the people who are doing things.  We also remain open of other activities in our community and volunteer to get involved as often as possible.

Mary Ann Penner, the Director of the Cold Lake (AB) Public Library shows how the coordination between agencies that can go on around the "table" is essential to allocating resources for community services:

Building Bridges with other community agencies is an ongoing endeavour. We find that open, honest, clear communications and a willingness to work together for what is best for the community goes along way towards building bridges. This means some give and take on all sides. We are here to serve the community so we want what is best for the community which often means change in the way we do things or in what we offer. We let our community partners know what we are doing and invite their participation. This is reciprocal, by the way. We know what our partners are doing, what they are trying to accomplish and we see where we can fit in. We offer our suggestions, ideas and concerns in an open forum and we work together to build something that will be a good partnership for all of us.

Every time there is a call for members for a committee we participate at least to see if there is a place for us on that committee. Over the years we have attended a wide range of different committees, some of which we are members and others that we are in regular contact with but do not sit on the committee. This allows us insight into what is going on in the various groups and if at sometime they have a project we are interested in we step up to the plate as they say and offer to assist in some way. We never say no when asked to sit on a committee but are open to the experience of at least finding out what their mission and goals are. We do not close the door. Reciprocally when we have a new project under way we actively go out and seek partners to work with us. Sometime we are looking for money and other times we are looking for resources, human as well as material, ideas, suggestions and concerns from a variety of organizations and groups before we proceed. In this way we try not to duplicate what is already happening in the community.

Beverly Obert, the Executive Director of the Rolling Prairie (IL) Library System sums up her experience with an emphasis on persistence and communication:

The library gets a seat at the table by being persistent, by going to meetings, having staff volunteer to work on community committees, and by communicating regularly with the public and the organizations within the community.

To be successful these efforts also must be a priority for your library's leadership. Lee O'Brien, the Assistant Director of the Cecil County (MD) Public Library says that at her library:

Getting a seat at the table is a priority of the library board and the director.  It is a goal in our strategic plan. The library has established excellence and strives to maintain that status and reputation in the communities.  This is everyone's responsibility. The library needs to demonstrate leadership--create and take advantage of opportunities at all levels. Establishing good people to people relationships with community agencies, their employees and the general public is fundamental.

And finally, Karen Hopkins, the Director of the Converse County (WY) Library reminds us that you and your staff shouldn't do it all yourselves. They "have made some progress with 'a place at the table' by having patrons talk directly with the county commissioners who control the purse strings."

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