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Edmonton Public Library's Community-Led Service Philosophy

Edmonton Public Library

Innovation Summary

The Community-Led Service Philosophy (CLSP) is a system-wide cornerstone of EPL’s service approach, informing the work of all library staff. Providing a strategic foundation for building relationships with Edmonton communities, the CLSP improves EPL’s ability to identify and meet customer needs, and adapt and develop services to meet those needs.

Innovation Leader: Pilar Martinez, Executive Director, Public Services, pmartinez@epl.ca

Problem Statement

Edmonton Public Library's Community-Led Service Philosophy has transformed the way the public library connects with the people of our city. Edmonton's numerous distinct neighbourhoods and culturally diverse communities present a multiplicity of needs in the areas of learning and literacy, public health and safety, economic development and basic access to information. In response to this challenge, EPL committed itself to reaching out to Edmonton's underserved communities through strategic collaborations with existing civic and community organizations. More than just a philosophy, the CLSP, as it has come to be known, has become the foundation for all of the library's services and priorities, and informs the work of all library staff. Inspired by community development work in other disciplines, and guided by a deep commitment to social responsibility, the CLSP provides a strategic, system-wide foundation for building relationships with Edmonton communities, thereby improving EPL's ability to identify and meet real customer needs.

Innovation

From the hiring of one Community Development Librarian Intern in 2008 to the creation or re-design of 19 community librarians, EPL has embraced a fearless approach to community engagement. With the expectation that 70% of their work occurs outside of their branches, EPL’s community librarians truly work within the community, forming relationships and partnerships that challenge the library to move beyond traditional library service. As Wendy Newman, a prominent library leader in Canada, has stated, “Community-led work is the frontier of public librarianship.” The scope of the implementation of EPL’s nationally and internationally recognized Community-Led Service Philosophy is truly innovative. The pioneering CLSP Toolkit (www.epl.ca/community-led-philosophy) has been described by John Pateman, an expert on community-led librarianship, as “a cutting edge piece of work which is in advance of anything I am aware of in the UK. I think that Canada is now leading the world in this field.” EPL’s Toolkit defines our approach and recommendations for implementing the CLSP at all staffing levels. A team coordinates opportunities for managers, community librarians and other staff to learn collaboratively by sharing the successes and challenges of implementing this service philosophy. An innovative database was created to enable staff to understand how much time is allocated to working with various community groups. Aligning this information with branch community profiles has enabled EPL to determine its effectiveness in reaching various demographic and community groups. While community engagement is on every public library’s radar, EPL is leading the way in its system-wide integration and rigorous evaluation methods to understand how we are making a difference in our communities. By utilizing new methods and technologies, the Community-Led Service Philosophy allows EPL to position itself as an integral partner, bringing the unique resources of the library to the community-building work of our city.

Progress

In 2011, EPL community librarians worked with approximately 200 organizations in Edmonton for an average of 16 hours per week meeting with communities. These librarians are developing relationships, skills and strategies that result in measurable outcomes such as increased circulation of specific collections, increased program attendance, and changes at the policy level. The use of a logic model of evaluation, staff time audits, an internal database tracking community visits, and annual evaluations with community members enables ongoing assessment to determine long-term impacts. One of our librarians has visited the Ronald McDonald House to connect with families whose loved ones are being treated in hospitals. She met an 8-month old girl waiting for a heart transplant. After being invited to attend our Sing Sign Laugh and Learn program, the little girl and her family came to the Strathcona Branch and attended the program. After two weeks, we received a phone call from her mother, telling us that the surgery was successful, and she also told us this: “When my daughter woke up after her heart transplant, she tried to tell me that she was hungry and she did that by signing -- something that she learned from a program at EPL.” One of EPL’s CLSP initiatives with the most impact has been made possible through a Safe Communities grant, enabling EPL to hire two outreach workers who work out of the Stanley A. Milner Branch downtown to connect directly with any individuals who appear to be at-risk or dealing with homelessness. This innovative project builds on the relationship many of the homeless have with the library as a safe refuge. Community librarians and outreach workers identify library visitors in need, demonstrating unconditional positive regard for all individuals, regardless of their circumstances, thereby gaining the trust needed to inspire and support lifestyle change.