Some Thoughts on Librarians as Community Problem-Solving Conveners

Community meeting at library

People come to the library with questions. Sometimes their questions are deflected as not being "ready reference" questions, meaning questions that can be answered by using one or two common reference tools. Is a question less valid if it is not a ready reference question? What would happen if librarians addressed questions by convening members of the community — pooling knowledge to discern and devise answers and solutions? The unanswered questions would have a higher chance of being addressed, which itself would promote more wondering.

Suppose someone came to the library and asked this question: "I don't have money to pay utility bills. In what ways can I make it through the winter in my apartment or house without freezing to death?"  That's a valid question, even though it's not your typical public library reference question.

There might not be one tidy answer to this question, but there are many approaches to answering this question. Naturally, all proposed solutions to this situation must place the safety of the community member first.

Watch: Community Conveners in Action

As an exercise, I share some ideas about this question in this screencast video I created on my Linux laptop.  

In my video, I ought to have mentioned heated jackets. The batteries in these heated jackets could potentially be charged at the public library — or at a friend's house. There can be ways of charging batteries in heated jackets using human body power, although the amount of exercise this entails is large. This solution would only be practical if there were several able-bodied persons doing the charging of the battery.

A Place for Solutions

The advantages of a community coming together to devise solutions of this kind are many. The devised solutions might have application to persons throughout the community in the event of an electrical outage or other natural or man-made emergency. The convening process itself weaves social fabric, especially when youth are engaged as co-equals in the problem solving.

In this way, public libraries can reside at the intersection of emergency management and the maker movement. I should mention, too, that the privacy and dignity needs of people being assisted are vitally important, too. When you're facing difficult financial challenges in your life, your needs for privacy and dignity need to be attended to with great mindfulness and caring.

How have librarians served as conveners in your own community? Tell us how in the comments below.

ImageSan Jose Library / CC BY-SA