Oak Park Public Library Case Study

How do we engage with our community in a more meaningful way? How do we make the user experience the center of all we do? What impact are we having and how do we measure it? In an effort to better answer those questions and make a tighter connection between library objectives and the broader needs of the community, the Oak Park Public Library embarked on a journey to “turn outward.” Following the Harwood model for community engagement, Oak Park has made strides in unifying its internal operations and strengthening strategic partnerships. Its intention is wider and deeper community impact.

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About my Harwood Experience: From Sit-Ins to Conversations

I didn’t expect to cry when I stood up in front of 125 people in Atlanta, Georgia last week. It wasn’t until I was handed the microphone and opened my mouth to speak that I realized that tears were trying to spring forth. I had to pause to stop the croak of sobbing which tried to come from my throat. I had to pause several times. I want to cry now as I am writing this to you—to you, my community. 

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Taking Action from Your Sphere of Influence

An important ingredient to creating impact is being clear about your sphere of influence and taking action from it. Seems obvious, right? What we find is that there are many people in communities that lack the capacity for grand plans and that there are even more people ready to make a difference but are not in positions to drive such plans. The solution to this is to take action from your sphere of influence.

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One Small Win Creates Huge Ripples of Change

The Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) team from Red Hook Public Library used their training to engage residents in their small town. They learned people were frustrated that problems in their community—even obvious ones—often went unaddressed. The only stoplight in town, which didn’t work properly, was emblematic of their concerns and came up in many discussions with residents. The LTC team took action and brought officials together to figure out how to x the problem. This seemingly small act sent a signal to the community that it was possible to make things happen, which has led to people stepping forward to work together on other issues that are keeping Red Hook from being more livable and connected. The library is playing a central role in convening these groups and has become a model for how other organizations want to work in the community.

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Building an Organizational Culture that Puts Community First

Spokane County Library District joined the Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) initiative in part to deepen the transformative work they had begun with a strategic planning process. Staff at the library used their training through LTC to focus not only on how they could build stronger relationships with the community and add more value as a library, but also how they could embed in the library a culture that put the community at the center of decision-making. During the two years of LTC, library staff members have become involved in a variety of initiatives to improve the community based on what they have learned from engaging residents. Additionally, library leaders have taken important steps to embed this new way of working into their talent management efforts.

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