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Tackling Exclusion, Building Communities

As the HHPTF has documented, U.S. libraries have been slow to adopt the social-exclusion framework for public service. See, for example, the “Open to All?” research, conducted in Great Britain.

Librarians who are seeking community-building models can benefit tremendously from projects launched in Great Britain and Canada.

Through national campaigns, these countries promote relationships between library staff and traditionally excluded groups. The resulting collaborations create more useful programs and services and more cohesive communities.

Canada’s Working Together Project has launched a new Web site: www.librariesincommunities.ca. Though portions are still under development, the site promises info on best practices, outreach toolkits, and more.

The Working Together Project has two main objectives.

The first objective is to use a community development approach to build connections and relationships in the community. These connections facilitate a better understanding of what socially excluded communities want and need from public libraries …

The second objective is to identify and investigate systemic barriers to library use. Many socially excluded people see and feel barriers that may not be evident to librarians and library staff.

The WTP is coordinated by LJ “Mover & Shaker” Annette DeFaveri and directed by her colleague Sandra Singh. DeFaveri authored the must-read article “Breaking Barriers: Libraries and Socially Excluded Communities” [pdf].

Helen Carpenter, Project Coordinator with the London Libraries Development Agency, has helped launch Welcome to Your Library, featuring a Website for improving access for refugees and asylum seekers: www.welcometoyourlibrary.org.uk. The site offers resources applicable to all socially-excluded groups, including practical advice, case studies, research reports, and more.

Welcome To Your Library (WTYL) is a project to increase opportunities for active engagement and participation by refugee communities in public library service planning and delivery. By doing so, WTYL aims to improve access to and quality of public library services for everyone.

A primary component of the social-exclusion framework is an understanding that there are many people in society who have no say in decision-making and have no access to power structures.

Exclusion is not merely a condition suffered by a passive victim but rather a deliberate (if uninformed) act performed by an authority. Social isolation doesn’t merely exist—it is created and perpetuated.

For a detailed yet accessible primer on social exclusion, read John Pateman’s 2005 keynote address from the Vancouver Public Library Staff Conference: “Tackling Social Exclusion in Libraries” [pdf].

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