What Are These Things Doing in the Library? How a Library of Things Can Engage and Delight a Community
On the surface, the difference between a Library of Things collection and any other collection in the library lies in the materials. We see traditional library collections as books, periodicals, sound recordings, video recordings, and the digital versions of these formats. A Library of Things can be anything beyond this, from air fryers and board games to fishing poles and Arduino kits. But if you look more closely, you begin to see that a Library of Things engages a community in a fundamentally different way than many of our traditional collections do. Through this unconventional engagement, libraries with special collections find new ways to have a meaningful impact on their communities. Good library collections do a number of things: they teach and instruct; they are representative and inclusive; they provide equal and open access to information; and they entertain. Special collections can certainly do all this, but they also afford us a unique opportunity to interact with our patrons through the materials we lend out. Certainly, some of the excitement for starting a Library of Things comes from the freedom to experiment and try out new models of lending, but there is the additional responsibility for us to make sure these collections are in alignment with the needs of our communities. When the Hillsboro Public Library was deciding on what to include in our collection of Things, we carefully considered our library’s mission and strategic goals, asked our patrons what they wanted to see in the collection, and did our best to ensure that these items would be as accessible as possible. Once the collection launched, we discovered that a Library of Things begins a dialogue with patrons, as they share with us their feedback, experiences, and ideas. We started hearing about the projects people were working on, what tools they needed, and what items they had lying around their homes that they wanted to donate to us for other people to use. While circulation numbers can tell part of a collection’s story, what really informs the success of a Library of Things and the impact it has on a community is how much the people we serve embrace it and make it their own.