A blog from the Ontario Library Service

Information and Referral Story Time

Hello library world,

Ever stop to think about the local community information referrals you have readily at your fingertips? Have you ever wondered – where does this amazing information come from? Well, welcome to Information and Referral (I&R) story time – so get comfy, grab your cup of coffee/tea, gather your fellow library workers and let’s talk about local community information data and its importance in your work. And, what better time than now since November 16th, is Information and Referral Day in Ontario.

InformOntario is the provincial association representing over 40 Community Information Centres and associated I&R providers in Ontario and in parts of Canada. As the president of InformOntario, I am honored to be invited to share with  SOLS on the I&R sector. I wear many hats as I am also a board member with Inform Canada and the Manager, Community Development & Engagement for the Oakville Public Library (OPL). OPL is the lead agency in a 30+ year community collaboration we call Halton Information Providers or HIP. Yes I said HIP! We are HIP, we are cool, we dance in the stacks with our librarians when one is watching… just like you do, right?!  More importantly, we play a vital role in our communities’ safety and well-being. When I combine my OPL community engagement, InformOntario and Inform Canada roles, it becomes the most amazing way to support community, provincial library systems, and community data providers in making a real impact on the individuals we serve every day.

Thousands of people find local programs and services they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services like mine and those that InformOntario represents. Local data is collected by certified I&R specialists with long standing community knowledge and relationships. As local experts who know their communities inside and out, they are able to curate information that leads to useful referrals that are relevant and culturally appropriate to respective customers.

Similar to our library sector, the I&R sector is feeling financial pressures that are out of our control. Recently, we have seen the closing of two major Information Centres in the province. This was a devastating blow to those communities, the staff and the I&R sector as a whole. All of us in the I&R community wondered, how would all the community information be maintained, how will the loss of this information affect the provincial 211 system – (each community information center gathers and curates a local collection of community services information and gives it into the provincial 211 system. – so when a call comes into a 211 call center it is the local information that the person receives). I am pleased to say that it is the library systems who stepped up to keep the information curated and available to the community. Libraries ROCK!! Many rural information centers are located in a library and many, like HIP, are a part of the local library system. Community Information and Libraries are natural partners in serving the public and both contribute to a healthy community.

Referring the right book and referring the right community support is the same in my books (pun intended)…imagine the impact you have on a queer or trans youth in a small rural (and urban – don’t kid yourself – isolation is real in our urban communities too) community who loves reading and you refer a book that has characters and real life examples that mirror their identity. Now imagine an I&R professional referring the same youth to a program and space that accepts them for all of who they are! I know the impact because a librarian changed my world not once, but twice with a book and a referral to a community resource…both saved my life.

I&R specialists do amazing things. Libraries do amazing things, too! Together, we have the ability to help our communities and continue to do that amazing work! Thank you!

On November 16th, please help me celebrate I&R day. Check in with your local community information center and thank them for their work.

Marcus Logan is Manager, Community Development & Engagement at Oakville Public Library and President at InformOntario.