Hop Around and Make Some New Friends (Community Building)

How does Johnson County Library, as a quasi-governmental agency, connect with other organizations? How do these connections build and strengthen a community? Are these connections beneficial to both entities, and how would you know?

The adjacent possible is the concept that adjacent to both organizations and their visions there are possibilities. Substantial things that can be done together that never would have been discovered without having the chance to meet.

The adjacent possible cannot occur without reaching out to other organizations and groups. The adjacent possible starts with a conversation to learn about someone else’s organization. Taking time to learn about another’s passion, the needs they are trying to meet and finding ways that your organization might be able to help and support their work, I believe these steps are foundational in developing community.

Why work with other organizations?

The most compelling reason is to get outside of our professional echo chamber , learn how others are solving problems and pick up new concepts and ideas. As librarians we seem to be a bit insular. I am not saying that we act like nuns or monks cloistered in seclusion, but I do think many of us would prefer to never leave the house during the weekend. Of course this is so we can read and reenergize.

I am not sure if this behavior can be attributed to our natural tendency towards introversion, but there is a benefit to just getting out there and seeing what’s going on in the world and connecting with others. Book groups, author talks and reading a book in a restaurant do not really count.

I am suggesting going to a Chamber meeting and talking with ten strangers you have never met before – and doing this by yourself.

What are some of the outcomes?

An outcome for me is an avalanche of social anxiety. It always feels like I am throwing myself off a cliff into a great abyss. Many smart people I have listened to suggest that you can desensitize yourself to this sort of social anxiety through practice. I have found that there are lots of really insightful and thoughtful books on the topic. These kind, compassionate authors and speakers share the same singular personality trait. They are all liars.

It does not get easier, it is painfully awkward and gut-wrenching each and every time. They only thing that I have leant over time is that I will survive. I have learnt to muster an outward facade of calm and composure. The only solace I can give you is, like me, you can fake it.

So why do this to yourself? Well it is not about you, it is about the organization that you work for and the payoff is so huge that you have no choice but to get out there and talk to people.

Here are some personal examples. At a recent local not for profit meeting, I imposed myself on a group from Goodwill and told them who I was and asked what they were doing. Surprise! They have just started building classrooms in their stores. These classrooms are designed to help people build computer skills and get back into the workforce. I was invited to a grand opening of one of their training classrooms. I took our Foundation Director, and we now are thinking about a partnership.

Next, I found myself barging into another group at a local chamber meet and greet and introduced myself. They were with the Women’s Employment Network, a local nonprofit focused on helping women reenter the workforce. We are doing some similar programming, and a couple of meetings later we are working together.

There are endless arrays of ways for libraries to create and form new community connections. Sometimes these connections might last just for an event or a program. Sometimes connections can be sustained for thirty years, like our partnership with Johnson County Community College and their GED program. You never know.

The modern public library model, I believe, is one that amplifies the agenda of others, finding new and creative ways to connect to the community. Librarians are endlessly curious and have a love of exploring.

Look before you leap, and then leap, skip, and bounce. Life is a trampoline, it is hard to climb up on, but once you’re there you might as well hop and jump around and maybe make some new friends.