The Only Free Place in Town
Does your club need a meeting space? Would you love access to free, local resources to support the needs and interests of your group? Your local librarian has the answer!
Years of experience as a public librarian taught me that while many people in the community are aware that their library provides free programs, fewer people realize that their library can usually provide space and resources for their own programs and activities. Many groups use libraries as meeting places and have awesome experiences! Though libraries generally have plenty of meeting space, you should communicate your needs to your library before you plan a meeting there to make sure.
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Can my group can use the library as a meeting space?
Librarians are public servants who are devoted to helping people learn, express their ideas, and make connections within the community. Public libraries are non-discriminatory institutions that support citizens and help them to meet a variety of needs. In other words, your public library is open to everyone.
Regardless of whether your group is associated with an established organization, or if you just want to find a convenient locale for your group of friends to knit, it is very likely that your library will allow you to meet in their building.
Is there anything I should do before using the library for my club or group?
This depends on the size of your group and your group’s needs. For example, if you would like to meet with three friends to discuss gardening, you probably do not need to reserve a meeting space. Most public libraries have a few areas with small groups of chairs and tables. If your small group is comfortable with meeting in an open setting with other library patrons nearby, you can bypass formal arrangements. You should just check your library’s hours and make sure that the library has enough seating room for your group in the main part of the building.
On the other hand, if you have a large group, you should definitely contact your library first and find out what its policies are with regard to meeting space. If, for example, your group contains 12 Girl Scout members and their parents, the library may have difficulty accommodating your group without prior notice.
Regardless of your group’s size and needs, I would recommend calling your local library at least one week before scheduling a meeting for several reasons. Here is why calling the library in advance is really the best approach:
- If your librarian knows when you plan to use the building for your group, she can let you know if a large event will be occurring at that time. If your group meets for quiet religious discussions or to support one another in times of grief, you probably do not want to be interrupted by the loud noise which might accompany a cultural celebration or musical performer.
- Communicating your needs to the librarian can allow her to reserve a private room for your group. You may also ask to book a room on a recurring basis.
- Often, groups would like to reach out to like-minded individuals in the community and include new members. Your librarian can suggest a way for you to advertise for your meetings or organization. You can use library resources, such as printers and the Internet to advertise for your group. I once helped a group of local quilters to find new members by creating a library display of their beautiful handiwork and allowing them to display flyers in the library.
- It is easier for your library to meet your needs if we they are relayed before you arrive. For example, to prepare for your yoga group, your librarian can move tables to give you and your pals sufficient space for stretching and savasana.
- Many public libraries will let even larger groups of 20+ people use their buildings as a meeting space for free, provided that they are contacted in advance. However, some libraries do charge fees for using their buildings as gathering spaces, so it is important that you know whether your library charges to use their space and if they can accommodate your group based upon its size.
- If your library is unable to provide you with the space you need, the librarian can very likely recommend a different local library which can meet your needs. Most libraries are part of a group called a library consortium. Libraries within a consortium share resources and plan together. Because libraries work together this way, it is easier for them to help everyone in the community.
Does my library have anything to offer my group besides a place to meet?
Absolutely! Your library is full of resources such as free Internet and computer access. When your librarian knows your needs before your meeting, she can also pull materials and set up equipment and supplies.
No matter what your group’s purpose is, the library is sure to have related books and magazines, as well as recommendations about useful online content. Using these resources is a great way to spark new ideas and promote enthusiasm. I found that group members often checked out materials that I provided after their meetings.
Public libraries will usually allow you to use their equipment, such as projectors, within the building as well. Many libraries have lots of programming supplies which you can borrow as well, such as games and arts and crafts items. Groups that will include children can also ask to use toys and other kid-friendly essentials.
What if I don’t have a group, but I want to meet people who share my interests?
Express your ideas to your librarian and she can help you to plan an event. When libraries plan programs for the community, they advertise with fliers, emails, newsletters, and content on their websites. Asking your library for help is a great way to get the word out to your community.
I once had a library patron who was interested in meeting other cancer survivors. When she and I discussed her needs, I found that she really wanted to create a group of upbeat women who could relate to her journey and share fun activities. We brainstormed together and decided that scrapbooking would be an enjoyable way for people to communicate and connect while engaging in an enjoyable task.
After making our plan, I advertised the program to invite local people who had been touched by cancer, as well as all other interested community members. I gathered scrapbooking materials, bought snacks, and enjoyed participating in the gathering myself. During the program, my patron was able to ask other people if they would be interested in forming a group with her and meeting at the library each week. Her group was a success, and they used the library as a regular meeting place.
Other groups that I helped to start included a homeschooling group, a card game club, and a group of cooking enthusiasts. It is so exciting for librarians to see the library space being used creatively by diverse groups of people!