Webinar – Five Ways to Transform How Your Library Works with Your Community with Erica Freudenberger, formerly of Red Hook Library.
Erica makes a strong case that the future is relational, not transactional and that libraries can strengthen the social fabric of their communities. It’s about connections, not collections. We need to undergo a Deep Transformation Through Community Engagement – Develop a collective vision that benefits the community. Libraries can/should/need to demonstrate value by being part of something larger than ourselves. Stop communicating value and just be valuable – or “Just Show Up!” Strategic partnerships are NOT community engagement. We must have conversations about community aspirations. “Don’t be arrogant and assume we know what the community wants or needs.” What vision does the Community have for itself?
How they went about answering the question: Spent 8 months collecting public knowledge by going door-to-door, going to festivals, and having 10 minute conversations with people. Using the Harwood Institute’s tools for “Turning Outward” and starting with the school Superintendent, they asked these 4 questions:
- What kind of community do you want to live in?
- Why is that important to you?
- How is that different from how you see things now?
- What are some of the things that need to happen to create that kind of change?
- Ask – one-on-one (with a 2nd person to take notes), 10 minutes
- Aspirations – questions for groups, like Boards
- Community Conversation – discussions outside the library with groups of 15 people
Volunteers helped and they built capacity – it was ‘high touch and personal’
Erica asserts it is not the library’s job to fix things but to alert people to the issues and to bring people together to find solutions. They helped identify the issues. Examples from Red Hook: Went to the high school to do programming (space constraints and no budget), created a pop-up library with school to provide equitable library services (went to the local trailer park), creative place making – took a Hispanic Heritage program to the Farmer’s Market and used a public space for a cultural/arts event that also benefited the farmers, Diversity – created a strong Diwali celebration with international students to help strengthen social fabric.
Libraries can be economic engines. The “Read Local Red Hook Literary Festival” drew hundreds and the businesses had a great day. They’ve done storytime at the candy shop and movie night at the local cafe.
Erica says, libraries “empower citizens to be actively involved in a democratic society.” While it’s hard to let go of the idea that the library is the center of the universe, by encouraging community decision making there was joint empowerment. They rethought adult programs ($9.59 budget) and recruited community members and had programs by the people for the people: beekeeping, wine/cheese making, bird watching, etc. She told us to stop guessing and stop asking people what they want from the library because THEY DON’T KNOW. She reiterated that this is the high touch and time intensive work of relationship building. They found out what really mattered to people and made it happen – she wants libraries to go viral.
Q&A – Budget doubled in 6 years. People were willing to share their talents and staff helped identify and approach potential program volunteers. She inspired staff and the Board with an Aspirations exercise. She shared that traveling and spending time together with the Deputy Mayor and school libraries planning a mobile maker space helped build those relationships because they got to know each other. When she left, they had a full time program coordinator and had 600 programs a year with 10,000 attendees.
For such a short webinar, it was packed with great information and I realize I’m late to the game, but I have now been exposed to Libraries Transforming Communities and “A Step-By-Step Guide to ‘Turning Outward’ to Your Community.”
I’m all inspired now to:
- Increase attendance at programs – quality over quantity.
- Increase circulation statistics
- “Empower citizens to be actively involved in a democratic society” or help bolster community spirit
- Use these Turning Outward tools for strategic planning – oh look, they have information just for that!