Guest Blog: Library Director's Experience at the Public Innovator's Lab

By Jos N. Holman, County Director at Tippecanoe County Public Library

This post originally appeared in Tippecanoe County Public Library's Newsletter

Many of you would not know this, but I have never been big on titles. However, recently I was recognized with a title I really like. I was dubbed a “Public Innovator.” I was officially granted this cool title by the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and even have the certificate to prove it.

Not only was I granted this title, three other Tippecanoe County Public Library (TCPL) staff members became “Public Innovators.” The recognition came at the end of a three-day training in Detroit led by Rich Harwood and several Harwood staff members. The Midwest Collaborative for Library Services organization awarded TCPL a travel and registration grant for 75% of the training cost.

The Harwood Institute is a nonpartisan, national, nonprofit organization. It teaches, coaches, and inspires individuals and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together. Working in concert with the American Library Association, the institute hopes to train library staff throughout the country to thoroughly participate in and (when appropriate) facilitate efforts to transform their communities.

“Turning outward” is the core principle upon which Harwood training is based. Only by turning outward can organizations truly understand and actually listen to what others are saying. An organization’s main point of reference for actions and decisions should no longer be its internal space and processes. Instead, the community becomes the organization’s point of reference.

A clear path for action is achieved through community conversations. Once these conversations are finished, a picture of shared aspirations begins to take shape. These aspirations become the focus for making positive changes in the community. Together, we make intentional choices that influence and direct shared actions. Collectively we make a difference in the lives of other people, institutions, and civic-minded groups. By doing this we make a difference in our community.

Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate and attended many continuing educational activities. Rarely did any compare to the Harwood training. Although I was certainly impressed with their methodology, I was most impressed with the purpose and intended result of the training.

This training was not only designed to improve me, it encouraged me to look beyond myself to improve the community around me through a concerted effort. It was about changing enough in me to help change circumstances for others. The training strongly intimated that I needed to care enough to develop a deep understanding of the community, decide on the best path, and intentionally choose actions that will make a difference.

All of this is meant to be motivated through a personal covenant, an agreement with myself about doing what I can to make a difference. On a personal level, I strongly believe life is about making choices. Even as a teenager, I wanted to make a difference in the world and believed that happens by making choices. Now, with the title of “Public Innovator,” it seems I have been formally commissioned to make a difference. This just may be the title I have wanted all my life.