“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.”Me with June's musician Ernie Halter.
― Ani DiFranco
I walk around the crowd each night of a concert, introducing myself to people I don't know. Surprisingly, I have to do this less and less because I know most of them by now. I know their children and their parents, I know whether they like BBC television shows or cooking, I know what they like to read and where they work. I know about the events in their lives and try to stay in touch. When patrons are sick and I know about it, I put a get well card at the circulation desk for the staff to sign. If we know they are having a tough time, it's not unusual for someone to come around from behind the desk and give them a genuine hug.
I don't know how other libraries operate. I don't know if hugging is common. I am not a hugger - and sometimes if a staff member wants to hug me, they ask permission first. What I am, though, is a admirer of what we have become. Several years ago when I was promoted to director, we had the morale of a retreating army. Now, we spend time together outside of work, share in each other's family joys and sorrows and help each other out on a regular basis. This is not something that I am responsible for - but it is something I encourage. To be realistic, we spend more time together than we do with our significant others. We share meals, we share laughs and we share frustrations. And our concerts are no different. I don't really schedule any staff members to work - they just show up. If they don't have a task to do, they bring their lawn chairs along and enjoy the show. However, if I need something - whether they are on the clock or not - they are there to get the job done.
Most importantly, though, is that the library is deeply invested in this community event. It's not in our library, nor are we identified as the people who do most of the work. And that's fine. What we get out of it is invaluable - respect from our community and their knowledge that if you need something done, you can ask a librarian. They count on us and we are not going to let them down.
I'm not sure the real benefit of our involvement. There is no quantifiable measurement tool for this kind of thing. What I do know is that if I need something at other times throughout the year, I have a go-to list of people to call who really care about the health and welfare of the library, as well as the people who work so hard to keep it viable and relevant. There is no question on our annual state report that asks us about that...and I would have a hard time even explaining the impact these kind of "extra" activities have on the library. What I do know is that the community buy-in events like these has created makes me feel more confident that, if we do fall on hard times, there are people in our community that have our backs. Isn't that, in the end, the whole meaning of community?
I'm still feeling the afterglow of this year's concert series. Back in reality, I'm already searching for bands for next year's series. Nobody has actually confirmed that we have the money, or that the Borough even wants me to do it again, but I know that if we stopped the series, there would be public pushback. Our community knows that a hot summer evening with live music and their neighbors and friends is worth it. No matter our politics or affiliations, this night is for everyone. This is how libraries can build support in their communities and get out from behind the desk and have real interaction with the people who stand up at municipal meetings to voice their support. So we'll make sure the music continues for next year...no matter what it takes. Because that's what librarians do.