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Guest Post: The Library Advisory Board, or How I Didn’t Throw Away My Shot

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Crystal Anne With An E comes to us from a sunny clime, though she is an indoor cat that prefers to remain pale. She is an autism consultant by day, and recently completed a degree in information science, mostly because she could and it was fun. She likes to read (obviously), watch TV while cross-stitching something geeky, play video games, beg her plants not to die in the hell heat of summer, and walk while listening to podcasts that likely involve some sort of murder.

So I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but libraries seem to be slightly under attack by people working in bad faith lately. Has anyone else seen this stuff?

The spectres of CBS's Ghosts are helping with this one.

Three characters from Ghosts on CBS in dress say So the floodgates are just open

I mean, it is VERY ridiculous. Let’s take one of the remaining bastions of both free thought and personal comfort and terrorize the people within it!

Totally a great look, she said in her sarcastic voice.

I know that there have been incidents at my local library that involved people being unpleasant on social media in response to things like Pride Month displays, and some difficulties with patrons that have resulted in librarians feeling unsafe, but nothing yet on the scale that some other libraries seem to be dealing with.

I am hopeful that we will never get there, but I am always concerned when people anywhere behave in these ways. Those concerns led to my becoming interested in the welfare of my local library, and I began to look for ways to be more involved with it.

A few months ago, I was tooling around on my local library’s web page, as you do. I was both browsing the books, but I also, just from pure curiosity, decided to look up the advisory board. I had finished my degree in information science a few months prior, and wanted something to do that was library-adjacent, but I also didn’t want to quit my current job. I had something of an idea of what the role of the library advisory board was, and as I looked at it, I noticed something interesting: a vacancy.

In my county, the library advisory board is overseen by the county commission, and the commissioners appoint the board members. I contacted the office of the commissioner whose district had the vacancy and just, well, asked. From that point on, it became a series of meetings.

The first meeting was with the commissioner in question. He asked me about my interest in the position, and what I wanted to do in my role. He also asked me about my own usage of the library, and even what sort of books I enjoyed reading. From there, it was arranged for me to meet with the library director, who I was already acquainted with due to some library interactions with the organization that I am employed by.

She apprised me of what my responsibilities would be as a board member, and asked me if I was still in. This is an important question, as I was agreeing to quarterly meetings and involvement for at least the next three years or longer if I’m re-appointed, which people mostly are.

I was in.

So in.

Here was my shot to be able to be involved and learn about the workings of the library, as well as a chance to be able to act in defense of my people in the event that someone tried to cause trouble for them.

Ghostly advice!

Two ghosts on CBS's GHOSTS talking and the woman in an antique gown says Do Not Sacrifice your Shot!

I admit, I might not have been taking it quite so seriously if not for the fact that I had done so much reading about how much libraries are struggling right now. I would still have done it, but it would have been more from the viewpoint of “this looks interesting and fun and I’m going to do it” as opposed to “This is how I use my knowledge of libraries and their work to advocate on behalf of our community.”

As for my role, I am involved in providing feedback to the county commission about the library’s operations and funding (I am a firm proponent of “make it rain”).

I also provide feedback on the library’s planning and events. In the event a patron issues a challenge to a book, there is usually a board member appointed to read and provide feedback on the book, along with a few members of the staff. I am told this doesn’t happen super-often, but it did occur right before my formal appointment, so I did see the challenge process and its resolution (the book in question was moved from the children’s section to the teen section).

Thus far, I have attended two meetings (my next one will be in November).

These are my main takeaways.

  1. I am very much on the young side for board members (I turn 44 in December).
  2. I have never given so much thought to lighting in my life. We are currently in discussions to have the library’s current lighting converted to LED, which will be brighter and more effective for people that are reading or crafting. My job is to keep the commissioner that I represent aware of the process, as well as advocate for its necessity, since the commission votes for the funding.
  3. I have liked being able to see and provide feedback on the library’s long-term plan, which they are currently formulating. I was also involved in helping the library become an “autism-friendly business” by providing training for the staff.
  4. I am a nerd. When I attend the meetings, I am usually typing notes furiously into a Google Doc. These are for me, but I also share them with the commissioner and the library director.

I know that many of the users of this site are proponents of the library and its role as a net good for society at large. With the many challenges facing libraries right now, I encourage you to find your own way to involvement.

Board meetings are often open to the public, and if you want to learn more about how they operate and how to help your library, they are a great way to become involved locally. If you see a vacancy and have the ability, being on the board is also a great way to give of one of everyone’s most important resources: your time.

In short, do it. They need you. We need you.

Every library system is a little different, but how have you become involved in yours? Are you on an advisory board for your library? What other ways have you supported your libraries? 

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