The Public Library: Co-Designing Community Engagement

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By Candice Bartholomew Brown


“We’re no longer just places with dusty books on shelves.” ~Renée Jacobsen

Renée Jacobsen, public librarian and programs and community engagement manager at the Lafayette Library, is the center of a busy hub. The library employs about thirty, mostly part-time librarians. They manage many programs, including  a community engagement team who’s  responsible for building educational programs and coordinating public outreach. This team works on multiple projects with CU Boulder alone.

Jacobsen revealed the secret behind the library’s success, “We do a lot with not a lot of hours! My advice is to share the load, if you can. ” 

There’s currently an influx of community engagement and most of the people involved are volunteers so delegation is key. Moving forward, Jacobsen plans to delegate the tasks based on the age range and the types of communities the programs serve.

 “I was actually really surprised when I reached out to the Office for Outreach and Engagement. I had no idea how many CU departments wanted or needed an outreach experience,” said Jacobsen. “So it was wonderful, but it was also…well, I had opened that door!!”

Jacobsen finds the value of such small group meetings to be immeasurable. 

“Dr. Shaz Zamore from CU ATLAS helped us reach diverse audiences for our Day of the Child event and his group reached a target they were trying to. They brought craniate kits, and we had families and kids doing something they don’t normally get an opportunity to do,” said Jacobsen. 

Zamore’s group attended existing library events and didn’t require registration for their presentations, a practice Jacobsen finds helpful.

“Right there that eliminates many barriers. When we have an event with registration, it’s a barrier. If there’s no child care, right? That right there is a barrier,” explained Jacobsen.

“The local public library is an ideal venue for coordinating educational outreach, because you’re gonna meet people and have engagement with people that you wouldn’t normally,” said Jacobsen.