The first was at the BMI 100 training that took place at PLS headquarters from March 5 - 7. First let me say, that if you ever have the opportunity to take BMI 100...just do it. It'll change how you see yourself and others, giving you a whole new perspective. For those that are unfamiliar, BMI stands for "Become a Master Instructor" and provides training strategies to engage your audience. Anyhow, on the first day I confessed that I found presenting in front of a crowd to be, well, terrifying. Everyone's staring at you, with expectations. Our instructor's response? It's not about you, it's about them. Think about that for a moment. You're up there at the front, maybe introducing an author or welcoming people to a program, and you're nervous because everyone's looking at you. But so what? They're there to hear what you (or your guests) have to say. They're not there to pass judgement on you.
The second time I've heard "It's not about you, it's about them" came at the Southern Alberta Library Conference down in Lethbridge. The keynote speaker, Paul Born, is an expert on community engagement, and quite frankly a brilliant speaker. During his breakout session, "Conversation, Collaboration and Community Change" he stated that libraries are asking the wrong question about their community. It's not, "What can we do?" but rather, "what do they need?" We really have to understand our communities before we can begin to think about what we can provide.
Mr. Born suggested (and this is really ideal for small libraries) this: print of your list of library members. Put each name on an index card or a separate piece of paper - and study the name and think about what you know about them. Ask yourself, what is their quality of life? What can be done to improve their quality of life? Who can the library work with to help improve their quality of life? Figure out who your members are. Get to know them. Only then can you truly provide service to them.
Understand that as a library, you have more people as members than any other community organization. As a public library, every resident is a potential member. As a school, every student. Your library represents your members - and ultimately your community. Don't do things that you're not willing to talk to the community about. Their well-being depends on the library's well-being, and the library's well-being depends on theirs.
Mr. Born admonished libraries to be present. Be aware, be involved. He said, it's not that you have to do more work - but find people who are engaged and want to do more. Yes, it may take a bit of work to find these people, but once you do, let them help you help the community.