Community Engagement with National Partners

The Free Library of Philadelphia received a 2017 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to implement the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries Initiative. The project’s goal is to create a practical curriculum to build community engagement capacity in 300 staff members at all levels.

group on people standing in room
More than 20 staff across the Cleveland Public Library system participated in the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries workshop.

The Free Library is well into the third year of our Skills for Community-Centered Libraries training program, and we continue to learn from our six national partners as they test the workshop series in their own libraries. Encouraged by what we heard from our partners in Shippensburg, Pa., and Columbus, Wis., last fall, we were excited to receive and review feedback from Cleveland, Ohio, and Hartford, Conn., as well.

Cleveland Public Library held its workshops in September and October of 2019, and more than 20 staff from across the system participated. The Cleveland Public Library has positioned itself as a community anchor within the Greater Cleveland area and formed numerous partnerships with grassroots organizers, community advocates and organizations both large and small. Sherri Jones, project coordinator in outreach and programming services, and Shenell Jones, assistant manager of the Martin Luther King Jr. Branch, had this to share about the group’s experience:

"The workshop presented Cleveland Public Library another opportunity to emphasize and increase awareness and skill-building for enhanced community engagement. Each session was lively, and attendees were highly engaged and pleased to offer feedback, suggestions, ideas and strategies currently in place at their respective branch sites. The training created a safe space where staff were able to learn from one another, gain insight on the talents which they currently possess, and [identify] those skill areas they may want to consider developing.

Library staff welcomed the opportunity to offer feedback about community engagement from their perspective. They appreciated being provided dedicated time to further reflect and delve into meaningful exchanges of dialogue about the value of community engagement in public libraries as they perform their duties."

people sitting at tables
Small-group work is a critical component of the training series.

Hartford Public Libraries held their workshops for approximately 15 branch and department managers in November and December of 2019. At the conclusion of the trainings, the participants unanimously recommended that the workshops be presented again so all public-facing staff had an opportunity to experience them. Marie Jarry, director of public services, shared reflections about two of the trainings in particular and about the series’ overall impact on the group.

"In Workshop 2, staff appreciated the chance to get to know each other better and felt that it made us closer as a team. In Workshop 3, participants were excited to learn about community asset mapping. The examples shown in the presentation really made an impact. Staff talked about how they need to view everyone as a potential asset and that everywhere is a place to talk about the library. The community meeting role play was also a big hit.

The team as a whole felt they bonded through these four weeks and were glad they had the opportunity. We had some staff who have been with the library four decades and others who joined the team just three months ago."

The Free Library will use this and other partners’ feedback to continue to make revisions to our curriculum in the coming months.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [Grant #RE-95-17-0089-17].