Building Community at the Library With Coffee and Conversation

  • Amy Honisett Multnomah County Library
  • Rachael Short Multnomah County Library
  • Kate Schwab Multnomah County Library
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As communities and individuals struggle with houselessness and housing insecurity, library staff must adapt in order to help our patrons fulfill needs. In 2013, Multnomah County Library (MCL) and the Multnomah County Department of County Human Services surveyed library patrons about library use. The survey identified that about 18.6 percent of visitors to Central Library—the county system’s main branch, located in downtown Portland— are people experiencing houselessness. These patrons visit the library more frequently than patrons who are not experiencing houselessness, and they tend to stay at the library longer than the latter group.

Because patrons experiencing houselessness may have negative experiences interacting with staff in businesses, government offices, and other public institutions like libraries, it’s important to start any engagement by building relationships. Staff members need to help these patrons find resources and library materials, assist them with account issues, and show them that the library is the right place for them by making them feel welcome. In order to address this need, staff looked for a way to build relationships between staff and patrons and to create a welcoming environment in the library.


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Author Biographies

Amy Honisett, Multnomah County Library

Amy Honisett, MA, MSLIS, is the Staff Development Librarian at Multnomah County Library, where she enjoys supporting her colleagues’ professional development, exploring approaches to community engagement, and continuously learning.

Rachael Short, Multnomah County Library

Rachael Short, MLIS, is a Librarian at the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. She coordinates programming at the Central Library and outreach to adults in the downtown area.

Kate Schwab, Multnomah County Library

Kate Schwab, MSLIS, is a Librarian at Multnomah County Library’s Central Library in downtown Portland, Oregon. Her focus is on serving patrons experiencing houselessness through outreach and programming. Coffee and Conversation day is her favorite day of the month.

How to Cite
Honisett, A., Short, R., & Schwab, K. (2018). Building Community at the Library With Coffee and Conversation. OLA Quarterly, 23(4), 20-25.