Connecting with the Community: Strategies to Help Public Libraries Better Engage with 'Hard to Reach' Groups
Public library services to Indigenous Australians, disadvantaged young people, Horn of Africa communities, low income families, and vulnerable learners are the foucs of this paper. These are some of the groups identified in the landmark Libraries Building Communities (LBC) project of the State Library of Victoria and the Victorian public library network (2005) who have much to gain from using public libraries, but do not use them. During 2007 in-depth qualitative research was carried out with each of these groups. This was supplemented by consultation with public library staff and with agencies providing community support to each group, and a literature review of the field. The conference paper will cover the findings and outcomes of this work. It achieved a much clearer picture of the nature of the target groups and their library and information needs, and greater understanding of the factors that inhibit their use of public libraries. It came up with five principles of engagement common to all of the groups; and generated ideas and strategies, and identified lessons for reaching each individual group. It is being supported by a program in the second half of 2008 to up-skill Victorian public library staff in this important area of service. The program includes publication of a report and engagement guidelines for each group, seminars and small workshops conducted around the State.