Staff are supported when looking outside the library for community partners. It isn’t just the library director who goes out and networks with partners. Everyone is encouraged and empowered to be seeking partners and opportunities in the community.
This support has created a culture in which staff are excited to advocate for the library. Maria Davis currently leads the Mountains Branch Library of Rutherford County Library. Before working at the library, Maria thought libraries were dying and never visited them. Working at the library, her perceptions changed. She saw that libraries can open opportunities, particularly for people like herself who grew up in poverty. Maria now speaks about the power of the library regularly to the Kiwanis, Lions, etc. Staff becoming engaged with community groups has led to outside organizations seeking the library as a partner, however Maria knows that many in her community are still like she used to be: They do not recognize all that libraries can do.
Maria was the person who opened the door to a local health foundation, RHI. Maria Davis approached the foundation to ask for a donated scale to help with a Weight Watchers program run by Kenneth Odom. Here’s how Maria described her first attempt to get funding for this initiative: “So I just called [my contact from the foundation] and asked straight up, ‘Hey, will y’all buy us the scale?’ I told her what we were doing, and she’s like ‘Sure’ when do you want it?’” Learn more in the side-bar!
Over the years, Maria has applied to the foundation for funding to help the library get everything from Spanish-language books to exercise equipment and gym classes. Maria said, “I think one of the reasons April hired me is because I I told her flat out in the interview ‘I’m not scared to ask anybody for anything.’ All they can do is say no, and if they say no that means no, not today. It doesn’t mean no tomorrow. So, I really think that’s 90% of the reason I got hired” to work at the library.
By recognizing how Maria could help the library, April also transformed a library skeptic into a library advocate, unleashing broad ripple effects that continue to transform how the library engages the community around health.