By Ann Hardy, Community Engagement Coordinator l Sarasota County Public Libraries
If you wanted to see a real cross-section of Sarasota County, where would you go? I’d argue that the most diverse places in the county are our libraries. Go in any library and you’ll see baby strollers, walkers, tattoos, diamonds, yarmulkes, uniforms, hijabs, saris, suits, and cowboy boots. The libraries’ patrons are job-seekers, language-learners, beginning readers, travelers, business owners, story-seekers, and more.
Librarians and library staff have an opportunity to make a real difference in our community by connecting these diverse people with the resources they want and need. To do this, librarians need to have a good understanding of both the current reality of people’s lives as well as the aspirations people have for themselves, their families, and their community in the future.
During a recent Staff Development Day for the employees of the Sarasota County Libraries, John McCarthy, Leah Duncan, and Juliana Musheyev from SCOPE, and I gave a presentation on Sarasota County and the communities within the county. The presentation was a combination of what the Harwood Institute would call “Expert Knowledge” (statistics, indicators, and trends) and “Public Knowledge” (knowledge about the community formed from conversations).
Through an interactive presentation, SCOPE shared basic demographics and indicators about education, employment, health, crime, and poverty in Sarasota County. They also broke down the statistics to show the unique aspects of communities within the County.
To reflect the Public Knowledge of the communities, SCOPE used responses library staff had gathered from conversations with individuals throughout the County. The staff had asked people:
• What kind of community do you want to live in?
• Why is that important to you?
• How is that different from how you see things now?
• What are some of the things that need to happen to create that kind of change?
Leah had aggregated the responses to show the people’s aspirations for their various communities. Living in safe, socially connected, and vibrant communities were some of the most common sentiments.
After taking this deep dive into the realities and aspirations of our communities, the group was asked to consider what they, as library staff, could do to meet the needs of their patrons and to foster the kind of community people want.
Thanks, SCOPE, for assisting our library staff in staying aware of and connected to the communities we serve.
The video below gives a glimpse of the day’s activities.