Director of Library Services and Community Outreach, Napa County Library
Danis Kreimeier, Director of Library Services and Community Outreach is a strong advocate for libraries, literacy, and equal access. Danis’s commitment to public service is infectious and Library staff and users both are catching the bug. Engaging with the community by hosting Community Conversations using the Harwood Institute technique has created opportunities to create community centric programs and services both in the library, with other County departments, and out in the community. Whether its maker spaces and sewing classes, succulent exchanges at the farmers’ market, Lego robotics classes for tweens, and new satellite service outposts in rural areas, LGBTQ Pride Prom, sensory time for special needs patrons or reimagined spaces for children, a new philosophy of customer engagement is evident throughout the system. By turning outward and listening first, Napa County Library has changed the way they engage and connect.
Learn more about Danis Kreimeier’s work with The Harwood Institute:
How did you first learn about The Harwood Institute?
In 2016 the Napa County Library received a grant to send four staff members to the Harwood Lab. We had been experimenting with different ways to reach out to our community in meaningful ways. The Harwood Institute gave us a structure to follow but most importantly changed the way we approached our community- from outreach to engagement.
How has your work been impacted by the Turning Outward practice?
Over the past 3 years we have practiced Turning Outward as a value. The biggest impact that I have noticed is that staff is now more directly engaged with our community and tuned into the various needs and interests. Their understanding of what is important to our community has lead them to apply for grants, create and implement new programs and services, and let go of past practices that served the library's needs but were a barrier to our customers. I am now in the position of being able to say yes to new and innovative programs and services that directly meet a stated need or interest. As a Director I have watched staff blossom with new ideas, energy, and commitment. It has been as much a benefit to staff as it is to our community. Work has meaning and staff see the benefits directly.
How do you view the role of libraries in your community?
The library is one a few public agencies that people go to because they want to, not because they have to. So it is important that people have a reason to come to the library. By offering programs and services that directly speak to the needs and interests of the community we have the opportunity to create a place that has meaning and connection. By partnering with other agencies, nonprofits, and other county departments we have the ability to highlight services that may be intimidating in another setting. The library can offer a soft touch entry to services. The library can act as the connective tissue for our community, bringing different parts together while respecting and honor the differences that make Napa County unique.
There is always the chance to learn, grow, and find something new. I like to create opportunities for serendipity for our library visitors: They come in for one thing and leave delighted with a book, a DVD, or attend a program that they didn’t even know they were interested in until they walked by a display that piqued an interest.
What would you say to a library professional who aims to make more positive, lasting impact on their community?
Listen, listen, and listen some more. Ask authentic questions and be present. The community is the expert. We may know how to run a library, but our community members know the key issues and concerns facing the community. If you ask someone what they want from their library, they will probably say more books, more hours. If you ask what they want for their community you will find so many areas that have a nexus with what a library can offer. By responding those issues and concerns, the library becomes a place that reflects the community and that our customers find to be a welcome and meaningful resource.
There is a saying in my household, I don’t know who said it first, “In lack of defensiveness, my safety dwells.” It can be hard to listen and hear things that you may feel are unfair or don’t represent our work. By listening with an open heart, we can hear the deep concerns and aspirations and respond accordingly. We may not be able to fix everything, but we can create a place where all feel safe, welcome, and seen.
What are some of your aspirations for your library, your community, and our larger society?
Napa County has seen earthquake, fire and flood these past 5 years. We experienced a mass shooting at the Veteran’s Home, and lost one of our brightest in the shooting in Thousand Oaks. We’ve been torn apart by a contentious ballot measure that passed by the slimmest of margins and still divides us. However, there is still a desire for healing and coming together as a community. Even though there is a deep divide on how to care for our natural environment, we saw our community support each other during each of the disasters and tragedies. There is a strong desire for connection and healing. The Napa County Library can be a participant in that healing and be a safe place to have those difficult conversations. It can also be place of hope. Many in our community know that you can connect at the library and learn English, take citizenship classes, get your high school diploma, work on your resume or any of the things you need to do to make your life work. I want to ensure that library staff has the skills, the resources and the vision to engage on a deeper level and do the good work. Napa County is a reflection of the issues that our larger society is grappling with at this time. My aspiration for Napa, and for society at large, is that we listen to one another, without defensiveness, with empathy and a desire to understand. Only then can we move forward together to address the issues that we face. When we listen to one another we can find common ground. When we find that common ground, we can take off running and change can begin.