Community Outreach in Urban Populations: Why?

I currently work in Detroit, near the Wayne State University campus, in Hutzel Hospital. It’s a very different atmosphere compared to what you may find in a library – hectic, loud at times, and fast-paced. Yet, I’ve become increasingly aware of the people that rotate in and out of the doors of the hospital – this urban population is made up of so many different types of people and the hospital finds ways to serve all of them and to reach out to them in ways they can relate to and appreciate. Why not the same for libraries?

Community outreach in urban populations is especially important because there are often groups of people living in those areas with literacy and access issues. In cases such as these, it is important for librarians to get involved with social events in the community and interact with potential patrons in a way that is inviting and relatable. Low literacy levels is a continuing issue in urban areas. As Kong describes, “nearly a quarter of California’s adult population lacks prose literacy skills” (2013). Library outreach in the form of literacy programs have an opportunity to take action and increase literacy levels in urban populations. From my research on this topic, I’ve learned that without harboring a collection that the library’s target population can relate to, there is very little chance that the library will be able to bring in and continue to properly serve that population. In Garcia’s (2014) blog post, Mirrors and Windows, she indicates that building diverse collections is difficult: although nearly half of the U.S. population is comprised of people of color, in 2013, “less than one third of one percent of children’s books published in the United States were about people of color.” With statistics such as these, libraries must delve deep into their collections to highlight literature that can be relatable and they must also work to build their collections to include more titles that can be both universally relatable but also highlight the minorities that are often found in urban populations.

Equity of access is a major issue for urban populations, specifically the poor and homeless population (American Library Association). Some of the major issues that this group faces in terms of library use are: policies that require a permanent address for a library card, fines or fees that give the perception that the use of library services costs money, staff who are not trained to be sensitive to or hold prejudices against the poor and homeless, limited access to the library facility by lack of transportation or unaccommodating hours of service, lack of programs or resources that address people’s current situations, and limited promotion at community centers that serve the poor and homeless (American Library Association). Fortunately, many of these issues can be solved with intensified efforts in community outreach and an increase in staff education.

Resources

A Garcia. (2014, August 7). Mirrors and Windows: Diversity in Outreach. Retrieved from http://theoutreachlibrarian.com/2014/08/07/mirrors-and-windows-diversity-in-outreach/.

American Library Association. Outreach Resources for Services to Poor and Homeless People. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/diversity/outreachtounderservedpopulations/servicespoor.

L Kong. (2013, March 19). Failing to Read Well: The Role of Public Libraries in Adult Literacy, Immigrant Community Building, and Free Access to Learning. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2013/03/failing-to-read-well-the-role-of-public-libraries-in-adult-literacy-immigrant-community-building-and-free-access-to-learning/.

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