Building a community, one lunch at a time
So I'm in the middle of preparing two libraries for the school year. They are residence hall libraries, allowing them to be this amazing mix of popular (and current) fiction and nonfiction, the newest movies, TV shows, CDs, and magazines. We also have some great resources, like GRE study books and special collections for our various living learning communities.
As I frantically organized, clean, and prepare, I'm faced with the (somewhat daunting) task of serving the students that live in these halls. As someone who went to a small liberal arts college, the sheer size of the these residence halls intimidates me.
So. Many. Students.
I ask myself, "How can I meet them all? That's literally impossible. So then, how to provide resources that will reach the largest number of students? How do I get students who have never been to these residence hall libraries before to come in and find something that they need? And, more broadly, how can I help make an impact?"
My first, gut reaction is to plan like crazy. Create a bunch of programs. Push the message out. Try to pull people in. It's the do-er in me flying into action. If I plan it, then they (might) come.
Then I remind myself that a year ago, I was feeling the same way. At the after-school center I was working at, I felt that same rush to plan, to prepare, to do the things I felt would help the center.
But who I was to decide what would happen months in advance in a place where I am the outsider? I was moving too quickly and my boss reminded me of that.
If I learned anything last year, the relationships you build first and more important than what happens after the relationships are built. Once a group trusts you, then you can make those plans, but with the people you are serving as the focus from which those plans radiate from.
Which is how I found myself at Merry Ann's Diner yesterday each lunch with 12 resident assistants (RAs). And we just talked. I asked about their majors, their classes, their favorite parts of being at UIUC. We talked about places to eat on Green Street and the restaurants to avoid (not very many, that was a tough question). We talked a little bit about the libraries; how I can help them and what exactly library science is all about. But I didn't push my agenda. I didn't try to network and plan programs with them. I just wanted to be a face they knew, a face they knew was there to help them.
Relationships first. Programs second.
So today, as I sat in that same library, cleaning the place up, one of the RAs coming back from training poked her head in.
The simple act of saying hello means something. It means I'm working myself into the space and the people who call it a place. It means that while I don't have any programs planned right now, that later down the road, I will. And I can only hope they will be collaborations with these RAs and the other students on their floor.