community information at your public library

Community Information, Electrified
Library Journal (1976) Net Connect 4-6, 8-9 Wint 2005
Tim Rogers, Atabong Fombon, & Erica Reynolds

This article addresses fulfilling patron’s need of community-specific information. Examples of community information include information about social services, non-profit groups, and what resources are available within the community for residents in general. Providing community information has been a growing trend for public libraries and many libraries are trying to figure out what the best method is for storing this kind of information. This article uses some preliminary data from a 2004 survey that asked questions about community information projects taking place in libraries across the country.

Many libraries use their internal online catalog to store community information. This might be the easiest method as the system is already in place. There is a move by some libraries to use things like Access, SQL, and MySQL to manage this information. This approach allows for a great deal of customization and can provide greater access to patrons.

Community calendars are another way to augment the information contained in the OPAC or library-created database. Often these can be established so that organizations can upload their own events and be responsible for the maintenence of their portion of the calendar, solving the problem of the high time cost involved with the creation of a community calendar. However depending on other agencies to update and essentially maintain the community calendar could seriously compromise the accuracy of the calendar. It seems to be best that the library take the responsibility for maintenence of the calendar.

Ultimately the article concludes that a web entity which includes both directories and calendars is best practice. This method provides content and not just links to content and allows an inroad for libraries to help in creating community – not just providing access to it. One Colorado library also provides a service where they create and maintain pages for organizations without websites.

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The MCPL has had a methodology in place for providing community information to patrons for some time. Before the OPAC there were a series of notecards containing information about various organizations within the community. Post-OPAC this information went into the digital database. When searching for it you type in the kind of information you’re looking for, for instance, “public health” and then “community”. These terms will get you the community information you’re looking for. This is very useful for reference librarians but it seems to me that this is probably not so intuitive for patrons. The MCPL certainly seems dedicated to providing this kind of information to patrons so creating the sort of best practice solution described in this article, a database and community calendar system, might be a good direction to go in.

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