Even though it happens fairly often, it still catches me off guard. I wasn’t expecting it when I took my dog to the vet or at the hair salon or in the church foyer, and definitely not at the title company. Those are some of the recent places where community members began unexpected conversations with me about the library. I welcome those unsolicited comments and think of them collectively as a weathervane of sorts.
The sheer frequency with which I am stopped to talk about the library is an indicator of its own. It leads me to believe a significant percentage of our community cares about the library and is interested in what it has to offer. This aligns with the results of a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Of the Americans 16 years of age and older who were surveyed, 94 percent indicated having a public library improves the quality of life in a community. Locally, your willingness to engage me in conversation about library events or practices confirms for me your awareness that the library serves to enrich community life. As a weathervane, it shows me you place value on your library.
The next indicator I look for is the “approval rating” of your comments. While I would be suspicious if I heard only flattering remarks, the library exists to serve you. If we truly succeed in our mission, we will hear about it through the modern equivalent of the grapevine; we will see it when you stop mid-visit to snap a photo; I will be stopped all over town by people who want to share their comments with me, and the majority of what I hear will be positive. As a weathervane shows the direction of the wind, the percentage of your comments that are positive help me to get an informal feel for the degree to which we are on target.
When you see me out and about and make an impromptu comment about the library, it also shows me, at least briefly, there is a seed of trust. Nearly all communication relies to some extent on trust, and friendly face-to-face communication has trust at its core. When you tell me about a moment when the library made a difference for you or for someone within your circle, you are trusting me to understand your enthusiasm. When you tell me where our blind spots are and how we could improve, you are taking a risk and trusting I will respond in a way that is professional and helpful. One of the weathervane’s most valuable messages is whether there is any wind blowing from the general direction of trust. Thank you for trusting me as the representative of our community’s libraries.
Being still relatively new to the state and the region, I count it a privilege to engage in conversations about the library when I’m grocery shopping or running errands or generally living life here in our community. I look forward to future reports from the weathervane of your comments.
Faith Brautigam is director of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library.