Posts Tagged ‘new ways libraries help communities’

Public Libraries Help Communities Grow in New Ways through Community Engagement

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

 

While the Skokie Public Library has always been active in the community, the library formally established its Community Engagement department in January 2014. “Besides programs held at the library, we have been continually involved in a variety of outreach activities. However, as we researched our 2013-2016 strategic plan, we looked for a community engagement model that would help guide the new department’s work,” explains Susan Carlton, the library’s Community Engagement Manager.

They found it in Turn Outward, The Public Innovators Lab for Libraries, a 2 ½ day training class presented by The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and the American Library Association. The Lab helps library directors and staff to more effectively interact with their communities, develop and implement new programs and work with library supporters. Seven libraries in the Chicago area have participated in this training session over the last three years.

“Harwood’s model for engaging the community helped us identify the residents and groups that are in need, how we can improve library programs and initiatives to better address community needs, and how we can partner with others to help the community solve problems.

“The results are mutually rewarding for the community – from individuals with ideas and questions to community organizations with their goals and unique needs. We all collaborate to see what’s possible,” says Carlton. The Community Engagement department now has nine full time and four part time staff members including Bookmobile staff.

Skokie and Community Engagement

Skokie is a unique community with a population that includes more than 65,000 diverse residents speaking more than 76 languages. As a result of facilitating a series of community conversations with Skokie residents Community Engagement staff identified three major themes that resonated with participants: the importance of a sense of safety; the wish for a vibrant downtown area; and the desire for a sense of belonging in this very diverse community. In an effort to find ways to address these themes the Community Engagement Department brought together a group of seven community stakeholders including school districts, village departments, social service organizations and the Niles Township English Language Learners Parent Center.

The group, SkokieCares, has been meeting to discuss how they can work together to help address some of the community’s needs. “As libraries rethink their roles in their communities, they understand that they are key, trusted entities and they bring numerous resources in addition to well established relationships and partnerships to the table. We want to partner with other organizations to address some of the community’s aspirations and challenges.” Carlton notes.

For example, the library sits on the Village Health Department’s Strategic Planning Committee contributing research skills and information resources as well as information about immigrant communities in Skokie. The goals of the Health Department’s strategic plan cover senior citizens, adults and youth with disabilities, school children, and others facing health challenges.

The Skokie Public Library’s Business and Career Center and the library’s business librarian are examples of how the Community Engagement Department works to identify and address the needs of business owners. Using information gleaned from conversations with small business owners throughout the community the business librarian designs trainings and conducts individual consultations targeting their information and technology needs. The library’s Business and Career Center was developed based on input from business owners and the local Chamber of Commerce to provide space for meetings, training sessions and appointments with clients.

Turn Outward

“We have an awesome staff that has enthusiastically helped us shepherd the Community Engagement’s new department and programming. It’s amazing what libraries can offer their communities.  Libraries need to help communities see the role they play and what they can do. It’s really exciting and the opportunities are endless,” Susan Carlton enthuses.

https://skokielibrary.info/