Empowerment. Society, and our profession in general, have become romantically attracted to the word, yet most of us would more than likely define it differently. In fact, a library director and I were texting each other about the significance of this word and others just a few weeks ago. We discussed what it means for the work that we are doing in our respective institutions, quickly realizing our different definitions.
Here at The Seattle Public Library, it’s an unspoken tenet that the work we do each and every day should empower our staff and patrons of every age and walk of life to experience and enjoy life. For our staff, we offer training and professional development and learning experiences that they can draw upon, and feel empowered to serve the public confidently. We also give them the space to think of new programs and activities that will be of interest or benefit to our users and create more personal and meaningful experiences.
Examples of this are our Your Next Five online service, where librarians recommend books tailored to each person’s taste. Or our Books on Bikes program, which allows bicycle-riding librarians and staff to bike out to our parks and festivals and set up pop-up libraries. Our staff-initiated series, OUT @ the Library, partners with agencies like local museums and night clubs to develop programs and services for our LGBTQ communities.
Beyond these programs, we support digital literacy by engaging children and teens in playful learning activities that help prepare them for school and life. Plus, our staff has thought of ways to reach and serve the homeless and insecurely housed. We visit homeless encampments to offer library cards and services, and have developed a public forum on encampment to open up civic discourse in our community.
For our patrons, we empower them through our core program of services (materials circulation, reference and information assistance and programming and engagement), and also in our service priorities, which create impacts and outcomes in the areas of Youth and Family Learning, Community Engagement, Seattle Culture and History, Technology and Access and Re-imagined Spaces. Some examples of this are our Raising a Reader program that empowers families and caregivers to confident in helping their charges learn and love reading. We also have a hotspot lending program where we loan Internet access to cardholders so they can connect with the world. And for the new immigrant or person wanting to learn a second language, we hold our popular Talk Time program where non-English speaking community members come together and practice their English skills in a non- judgmental, but encouraging environment.
Finally, we are transforming our library spaces to connect with our patrons and give them the space to connect with others. For each and every resident who walks in the doors of any of our 27 locations, our goal is to increase opportunities and experiences where the library makes a difference in their lives. It all starts with a smile, a welcome and a “how may I help you?” If that isn’t the definition of empowerment, then we have got it all wrong. And I don’t think we do.