Five Ways to Transform How Your Library Works with Your Community

Webinar – Five Ways to Transform How Your Library Works with Your Community with Erica Freudenberger, formerly of Red Hook Library.
http://ideas.demco.com/webinar/5-ways-transform-library-works-community/

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:

  1. What kind of community do you want to live in?
  2. Why is that important to you?
  3. How is that different from how you see things now?
  4. What are some of the things that need to happen to create that kind of change?

3-Part Approach:

  • 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!
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Library Journal Directors’ Summit

My mind is bursting. I have notes and ideas from the Directors’ Summit, notes from this Webinar, Ideas from the Libraries Transforming Communities Case Studies, and now I’m digging into the Aspen Institute Executive Summary. I’d been neglecting my continuing education and I’m happy I took some time out to change that.

Notes from the Directors’ Summit (a hodge podge)
LJ’s recap with full names, titles, and library details at libraryjournal.com

My ideas and take-aways:

  • culture through clothes/sewing or music
  • Know your stakeholders well enough to prioritize
  • Know who to partner with (be picky)
  • Define success at the front
  • Are we the last true public space where we can bring diverse people together?
  • What’s the future of suburbs? Is it a blip in social history?
  • Libraries can powerfully shape the narrative with our stories and that leads to the Agendas and ultimately to the Decisions that are made.

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Developing Organization Culture Richard Kong, Skokie
Culture eats strategy for breakfast – culture are the shared values, standards, and beliefs
What is the personality of the library?
Created a Culture Club because the library serves the community but also it IS a community. The club created a culture statement: Equity, Diversity, Inclusion
Monthly reflection time – what are we learning? What possibilities are there to move forward. Pause and Reflect.
Compassionate (buddhist) leadership.. “listen with only one purpose to give them a chance to speak out and suffer less.”

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Director’s Evolving Role panel with Siobhan (FLP), Ramiro (San Antonio), and Gretchen (Idaho)
Need for partnerships – FLP did scenario planning prior to the strategic plan to restart the Library. Community-based asset building – Read by 4th initiative, workforce development, work with Housing, work with teachers directly because no school libraries. Took Harwood Institute training.

From oversight to promotion, innovation, community strategist, connect/collaborate. Drivers impacting role: community goals, equity lens, education, civic engagement, workforce development, early literacy, and technology. Venue for discussions with community. Mission alignment with partners. Engaged outside library and delegating oversight.

New Director – went out with a library road show only to discover the staff fell short of the dream and what she had sold. They needed new skill sets. Culture and training – apply customer service to staff. Turn outwards and embedded librarians. Co-location with children’s theater/library. Motto was ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ and strove to be nimble. Agree on mission and purpose to set politics aside. ‘Hold doors open’ culture.
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Economic Development and our role in civic life panel
Jamie – Fairmount Park – Civic commons and public space to share prosperity.
Shin Pei – Studies experiences in public realm. Design influences behavior and policy influences design. Loneliness is a threat. Public space awareness is greater while trust and civic life erosion increase. Social capital – sprawl makes it hard to have spontaneous interactions.

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What the City Needs from the Library…
Chicago aligns goals of library with city if appropriate. Jobs/literacy. Library a sought after partner in Chicago. Asks prior to partnering: Do we have capacity? Do we want to associate? Can they also commit? Ex. Learning circles have a 60% completion rate for online courses at the library.
Andrea from Nashville Civil Rights provides undergrad history courses at the library and shared a project where they give the course to new police recruits.
Summer Learning rather than summer reading. Sciensc, explore, track learning to combat summer slide. Learning ecosystem in the city. Create value you can measure. Digital skills – summer challenge with outcomes. Drives community change. Creates universal benefit for all. We are both universal access and impact.

Crosby Kemper spoke on the 1st amendment.

Free Library of Philadelphia newly renovated branch tour highlights:

  • Cafe seating facing windows with outlets a plenty
  • B/W signage on acoustic tile – clean, simple, just photos
  • Acoustic ceiling tile
  • wheels on everything – flexible space
  • Baskets of kids ‘manipulatives’ – people, kerchiefs, signs/cars, animals, dinosaurs
  • Small desks IN service area with light shade sporting a question mark
  • small collections (Siobhan likes Denmark and Belgium library innovations)
    Outdoor reading garden

More take-aways:
Be Intentional. Be. Be. Intentional. What would happen if we focused our programming for 2018 on a recurring theme? Music, for example, since Libraries Rock is the summer reading theme. What if we went with quality over quantity to we don’t overwhelm our potential audience and give ourselves time to market and promote. Better yet, what if we do as Erica suggests and be democratic with our programming and let people decide what they want and help provide it?

Community. Community. Community. Lower Moreland is a bedroom community with a top-notch school district that draws in families. Our sense of community is struggling. The Township is developing trails, adding sidewalks, and trying to develop a ‘village’ along Huntingdon Pike where we have salons, restaurants, boutiques, and stores. Our LM Business Association is ripe for a restart. What is the library’s role in that? The meetings are held at our location now, Pam organized a successful business breakfast, and she drew in several businesses as partners for summer reading. Do we want to further develop our role as an “economic engine” for this little Township? Lower Moreland Rocks – like the Geek campaign, what can we do to partner with LMTSD or the Township to spark community spirit? October festival? Library pop-up?

Be Substantial – Say No to Fluff. Where are we substantial and where can we be substantial – meaning valuable? What does our community need from us besides Friday movies and best-sellers? I like the notion of Summer Learning instead of summer reading. Early literacy and reading readiness could be expanded. ESL, diversity, culture, bringing together diverse people in a safe space to learn. STEM, robots, science of music – so many ideas.

Next up – a great webinar…