Earlier this week I had an opportunity to learn from an organization that has a lot to teach California public library staff about their comunities. While HealthyCity primarily focuses on public health related matters concerning communities who are frequently untapped as information resources (and underserved by bureaucracies), both their tools and methodologies have much to offer us as information facilitators. Currently HealthyCity is providing onground--and free!--training around the state; their website, however, has a deep and wide suite of practical guidance for those who can't leave home or work.
One of the huge take aways I have from the in person training is a set of new skills for working collaboratively with community specialists. Nope, I don't mean reps from other community serving agencies. The trainers made the (correct) assumption that those of us gathered felt comfortable collabrating across agencies: librarians with social workers, child caseworkers with nutrition advocates, community organizers with civic government. Instead, they offered modelling of inclusive collaboration with the very community experts so many librarians aren't sure how to approach, let alone might forget that they have essential and pertinent insights we can't conduct true community research without. Instead of taking expertise to the community--and expecting it to be recognized--we learned how to allow community members to share their onground wisdom of community assets and disconnects. We can sit inside the library and see that there is a large park on the map of the community. We can go to the regional park website and read about the park's amenities. However, by asking those who live near the park to join us there to take a walk and record what we see and then ask questions of the locals gives us a more expert and honest view: the basketball hoops aren't used because the court is littered with glass that the park service cleans only weekly; the kids' playground has excellent water fountains--but it's the only point in the park where the plumbing works reliably; there are picnic benches in attractive areas, all noting "No alcohol," but the only stores on the edge of the park are liquor stores....that's a scenario, but you can see from it, I think, how much more we have to learn from the community as experts than we do from our own library-vetted resources.
To get a better idea of the technical learning that came out of the onground training, you can scan Infotweets for remarks. Or you can jump right into the video tutorials on the HealthyCity site. Just one caveat: approach community expert research humbly. As library folk we know how to find out just about anything. Yes, we are a community asset. And yet, we don't necessarily live the experiences of the community where we work; the community's members are the experts about that.