CT librarian extraordinaire Jaime Hammond is a local treasure. In addition to her work as a Reference and Serials Librarian at Naugatuck Valley Community College, she is the Membership Chair of the Connecticut Library Association and one of the Conference Committee co-chairs for this year’s CLA conference. Jaime is making libraries better and she’s improving librarianship for the rest of us! I’m happy to share her thoughts on what libraries can learn from their neighbors and how we can participate in our local economies. Take it away Jaime!
I recently attended a farming conference- the 28th Annual CT NOFA Winter Conference, to be exact- where the keynote speaker, Michael Shuman, spoke about supporting local businesses and why this idea is so important to the economic health of our country. While I knew it was a good idea to buy local, I had never really heard the explanation of WHY it was good- turns out a significant amount of money spent in a locally owned store stays local, whereas money spent in a national chain does not (http://bit.ly/PV1Hq). Okay, I thought, no more Target- I’ll spend my money at the local gardener’s supply, the local bookstore, the local coffee shop. No problem. Except there was a problem- I couldn’t find a good listing of locally owned businesses. A few “local search” engines proved to be useless, and I began to settle in to the reality that the mom-and-pop shops were really gone.
Then I came across a couple of sites listing local businesses called Local First- localfirstchicago.org, cambridgelocalfirst.org, localfirstaz.com. Where were they coming from? Upon closer examination, they were coming from BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which started as a project of a few people including, you guessed it, Michael Shuman. These Local First groups were networks of BALLE, open to locally owned business, who would get promotion, ads, a listing on the website, discounts on zipcars. But they were also open to non-profits in the community, and here’s what got my attention (from www.thinklocalfirstdc.com) :
Our members are independent, locally owned businesses and non-profit organizations that are committed to building a strong community and thriving local economy.
Libraries are non-profit organizations that are committed to building a strong community- and while supporting a thriving local economy hasn’t necessarily been a main goal of ours- why shouldn’t it be? If the local economy supports the tax base that in turn funds us, why shouldn’t supporting local business be a main goal of the public library? Some libraries offer special services to local businesspeople- the Simsbury Public Library (CT) offers a Business Resource Center (http://www.simsburylibrary.info/brc.htm) for business people that includes programming, resources and assistance. But I think we could take this a step further- in addition to offering services to business people, we should be supporting and promoting local businesses.
Promoting businesses is a strange idea for the neutral institution known as the public library. Would that mean we were selling out? Would we risk adding bias to our decisions or our collections based on those affiliations? Not if we were the ones deciding who gets promoted. Each Local First chapter invites membership, at a cost. Members are reviewed based on criteria set by the chapter. Only those who are deemed a part of the local economy are allowed in, therefore ensuring that the businesses listed are a good fit for the chapter.
The local library should be the heart of each community, and in many cases it is. I propose that libraries take on the challenge of bolstering that community by ensuring the economic success of the businesses that support it, and do so by starting Local First (or anything similar) chapters in their communities. By being the organization that chooses who to support, the library’s core values can be preserved, while at the same time ensuring the continued income of funding through a strong tax base. It’s time that we took a step beyond the community bulletin board and began being the true heart of the community- the one that pumps the blood throughout and ensures a long and prosperous life for those we serve.