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Student Shadow Natalie LoRusso Reflects on UNYSLA Fall Conference

Natalie LoRusso was a student shadow at this year’s UNYSLA event “Staying Relevant, Keeping Connected,” held at the Onondaga Central Public Library in Syracuse, NY. As a second-year MSLIS student at Syracuse University, LoRusso is a graduate assistant at the Veterans Career Transition Program through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). Upon graduation in May of 2017, she looks forward to joining an academic institution with a focus on library outreach and accessibility.

Speaker 1: Elizabeth Dunbar

The conference started with a presentation by keynote speaker Elizabeth Dunbar, the Director and CEO of the Everson Museum of Art. Dunbar spoke on how to get innovative with library programming, while staying aligned with their institution’s mission. There are three main components to implementing programming that engages local communities while staying true to the Museum’s mission.

Engage Diverse Communities

            Is your institution holding events that only appeal to one age group, interest, or hobby? Branch off from typical programming, and try implementing a program that appeals to a wide variety of community members. When planning a program, consider age, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, socio-economic status, and geography. For example, Dunbar discussed some ideas the Everson has had great success with, such as Ladies’ Nights featuring scarf-making and wine, Summer Film Under the Stars Series which is a huge hit for families, and Teen Style Engineers: Fashion through Science, which is a two-week camp that challenges teens to combine science, engineering, and fashion design.

Incite Curiosity & Lifelong Learning

            Speaking with a museum in mind, it is important to be able to offer enticing events for people of all education backgrounds. Museum workers want the art to be enjoyed by first-time visitors as well as seasoned art historians. One way to make this possible is to increase outreach and partner with local organizations to help spread the word. Some examples included tours, painting classes, camps, films, lectures and artist talks, demonstrations, and performances. Listen to what your community wants, and plan accordingly.

Contribute to a More Vital & Inclusive Society

There are many ways a library or museum can give back to their communities, but ultimately, the communities shape our local society. Community engagement is key for innovative programming. After all, in a museum, art is meant to be engaged with! Social events bring people together with a common objective, and outdoor activities can make use of the space. One example of this is the increasing popularity of yoga in and around the Galleries of the museum. When the weather cooperates, yoga classes are held outside in the plaza, but when the cold air makes an appearance, the classes are held inside. Make use of every inch of space, and if a programming initiative involves patrons creating something, be it a scarf or a painting, create a new exhibit centered around these contributions. Patrons will have a chance to have their own work displayed for the community to view, and contribute to the museum with their creations.

I found that implementing events that community members suggest was a great outreach method, and became curious as to what other programs my library could carry out that would intrigue our users. Libraries and museums are fruitless if they are not engaged with. What better way to reach our users than to listen to what they want to do, make, see, or hear? The list does not stop there, and I found myself wanting to brainstorm further initiatives because of this point.

Speaker 2: Susan Reckhow

Shortly after, Susan Reckhow, presented “Library Renovations with our Community in Mind.” As the Administrator for Branches and Initiatives at Onondaga Central Public Library, Reckhow was a main proponent of the recent renovations for the Mundy and OCPL branches. To get to the root of desired library space and function, she gave example questions for patrons to answer:

  1. Why is the library important to you?
  2. What would you like to see addressed through the renovation project?
  3. What are your main frustrations when using the library?
  4. What is one new service you would like to see the library offer?

She also asked questions about connecting with our communities:

  1. What does the community need to help it move toward the ideal?
  2. What changes can the library enact to ensure community needs are being addressed?
  3. What will have the largest impact on users in the new space?

After collecting answers to these questions, the library administration would take the physical space into account. One suggestion revolved around the picture books being too tightly packed into the shelf space, which proved difficult for young children to pull a book out without assistance. This resulted in parents picking out books to read, and not the children themselves. Reckhow explained that to rectify this, they opted to create a setup similar to vinyl record stores: have the front covers facing out so children can flip through them and pick books based on what they like. Though this method took up more space in the library, it fulfilled its purpose. After redesigning the picture book collection, circulation increased by 96%. Children were picking out their own books in a way that suited their dexterity, and benefited from wonderful books because of it.

For me, the tour that followed was the pinnacle of the presentation. As a first-time visitor of OCPL, I was in awe of the user-friendly layout, minimalist yet vibrant interior design, and comfortable reading areas. The Makerspace alone was enough to warrant the rest of my attention. I had not considered the importance of space, function, and accessibility to such an extent, but Reckhow elaborated on each decision, as well as ideas that did not work in their favor. I walked away with the knowledge that the answers to difficult questions lie in collaboration and involvement.

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