When libraries have community engagement tools to bring disparate voices together, communities become stronger. That’s how Mary Davis Fournier, deputy director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Public Programs Office, introduced the “Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change” News You Can Use session at the 2017 Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits on Saturday.
Fournier spoke about the two-year Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) initiative ALA is executing in partnership with the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD), with support from the Harwood Institute and backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The initiative began with training and review at 10 libraries, which showed how public perception of libraries and librarians have shifted and what areas should be prioritized next, such as resource-sharing and bringing LTC to more academic and rural libraries.
“Local media has helped change the narrative away from budgets and fines and to services and programming,” said Fournier. She noted that even library leaders’ own perceptions of community engagement has shifted after LTC training.
Courtney Breese, managing director of NCDD, asked attendees to think about individual issues their communities are grappling with and what resources and abilities libraries and librarians have to help communities engage on these issues.
Denise Davis, director emerita of Cecil County (Md.) Public Library, shared her concern that the Baltimore area was becoming increasingly divided, with racism outside the Beltway directed at those who live within it. Davis wondered if the library could play a role in addressing this with better conversations. Tanisha Mitchell of Freeport (N.Y.) Memorial Library explained how her city’s large immigrant population does not come out for advertised immigration programming out of fear, and she wondered how to reverse that trend.
“Libraries are attune to these issues, but perhaps some additional skills are needed for convening and facilitating,” said Breese. She described the different streams of practice that can be used in dialogue and deliberation—exploration, conflict transformation, decision making, collaboration action—and gave examples on the application of each, citing discussions following 9/11 and the 1994 Brookline, Massachusetts, clinic shootings.
Breese also underscored the importance of reaching out to other organizations that have already built trust with people in the community, and learning from residents what most needs to be discussed.
Fournier ended the session by encouraging attendees to sign up for Models for Change training webinars or in-person workshops. “Everything associated with this initiative is free and accessible,” she said.
For more information on Libraries Transforming Communities resources, visit ala.org/transforminglibraries/libraries-transforming-communities.