With the change, loss, injustice and suffering the past year has brought, community-centered libraries are needed now more than ever.
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.
When the Free Library of Philadelphia first started working together to draft a curriculum for the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries project, we never guessed how essential the skills we proposed to cultivate and strengthen would be to libraries in 2021. We gave a well-received presentation about the curriculum in Philadelphia at the ALA MidWinter Meeting in late January 2020. Not long afterwards, all of us felt the ground moving under our feet as COVID and its fallout came to be known in our lives. Near national lockdowns started in March, together with the ensuing fears and losses of a global pandemic.
In May and June, mass demonstrations across the nation and world demanded racial equity and systemic change in the face of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. Demonstrations in Philadelphia this past summer were the most intense of a generation. A demand for internal change resulted in the resignation of our library director, Siobhan Reardon.
Philadelphia continues to wrestle with injustice, adding in October the name of Walter Wallace to the litany of names of those who died unjustly.
In other parts of the country, wildfires and hurricanes destroyed thousands of homes. Unemployment and hunger are widespread; a sense of alienation from each other is deeply felt by the young and the old, and everyone in between. Reeling, we struggle to gain our footing after a battering presidential election. Uncertainties and concerns about what divides us will remain for quite some time.
In the face of change, loss, injustice and suffering, communities recreate and recommit; we pick up the pieces and begin to build again. We need each other’s skills, wisdom and knowledge for that reassembling, and that is what this Skills for Community-Centered Libraries curriculum is all about.
This winter, the Free Library is moving ahead with the remaining cohorts of the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries project, albeit in Zoom format. We will explore and create together, and later this spring, we will share the finalized national curriculum with you, our colleagues and communities.
Libraries will continue to share and serve in the regeneration of our towns and cities because the skills of building connections, effective communication, program development and engagement have never been more important.