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Libraries Building Communities Together

OHIO librarians recently joined forces with the Athens County Public Libraries (ACPL) to host “Libraries Build Communities,” a day-long conference held in Alden Library for librarians and staff to help foster connections, not only with librarians and resources, but also to enhance the quality of life for the OHIO community and the community of people living in Appalachia.

This emerging partnership first began with the “We Are Appalachia” symposium held both on the OHIO campus and at the Athens Public Library, which led to National Library Week when the two libraries shared library resources between their respective communities. Each success led to another, so it was a natural transition to partner for the “Libraries Build Communities” conference this summer.

The in-house conference featured OHIO librarians and staff covering a spectrum of topics such as inclusivity and access, digital initiatives, and perceptions of teaching librarians; to ACPL staff and librarians speaking on outreach, resources to supplement OHIO—and both libraries brainstorming on future collaborations.

“We talk a lot about libraries being information hubs, and libraries being a place for offering access to all. But we find ourselves talking more and more about libraries being places that foster connections…that face-to-face interaction with someone,” says Becca Lachman, communications officer for ACPL, presenter, and former OHIO instructor (among other roles) who also assisted with the Student Writing Center inside Alden.

That face-to-face interaction was the focus between presenters Paul Campbell, subject librarian for the social sciences, and Hanna Schmillen, subject librarian for health science and acting co-head of Subject Liaison Services, who are conducting research through peer observations to gain constructive feedback offered in a safe environment.

“The theme of the conference was about building communities, and that is exactly what Hanna and I did, at least between the two of us, [we] built a community of exploring our teaching abilities,” said Campbell.

Campbell further explains saying, “A great example is that when I ask questions of the class, I am very uncomfortable with silence in the classroom because it makes me feel like I am not a good teacher. I felt that since no one is talking, no one is learning… But going through this experience with Hanna, has made me realize that is not true. It is fine if there is silence, and I need to accept and harness that [silence] to make the learning experience better.”

According to Schmillen, teaching “is about understanding who you are, and how that drives the content, or those interactions, with patrons and the people in the community”— which can happen in or out of a classroom.

Although OHIO Libraries are well known for their top-notch resources available for students and faculty that support academic excellence, innovative programs and effective teaching, learning and research, public libraries can offer additional outlets to relieve the stresses of academic studies for the OHIO community.

“More and more as I taught here at Ohio University,” explains Lachman, “I saw the need for self-care and outlets for unplugging from that rigorous academic life, whether finals week or not. I think public libraries can offer that, for free, to students through our digital library offerings, crafting and cooking workshops, and things like circulating Book-a-Bikes and board games.”

One of the resources introduced especially with a college student in mind is ACPL’s e-library card that students can obtain online if the student currently lives anywhere in the state of Ohio or neighboring counties in West Virginia. With the e-card, students can use the resources at ACPL such as stream or download movies, music, e-books and digital magazines.

But there is also another side to OHIO students doing service-learning work, alongside their instructors, inside local public libraries that offers a sense of give-and-take and gives them a unique insight into Athens County communities.

“For example, in the past couple years, we [ACPL] have worked with an economics professor [Julie Paxton] at OHIO who brings about five to six students weekly to our Chauncey branch and they put on a series called, ‘Cooks and Books’ that involves cooking a simple meal to enjoy together. [The program is geared for] the tweens and teens that come to the library every day after school and are there until it closes,”  says Lachman. “…These are real relationships being formed between OHIO students, 19-20-21-year-olds, and the [local] teenagers.”

According to Julia Paxton in a news story written by Emily Baxstrum, Paxton is an advocate of service learning where students experience things that cannot be taught in the classroom.  “The relationships they build with the community complement the theories they learn about in class.”

All of which brings us full circle back to libraries, both academic and public, working as a catalyst to improve the quality of life for the OHIO community and the surrounding communities of Appalachia. 

The professional and social support being developed between the two library systems is not only tangible but is helpful in creating a shared support system for future endeavors.

“[And] it just felt good to be together with other librarians,” says Lachman.