Part 2: Libraries Change Lives: How the Big Read Helped Veterans Heal

We have different names for this process in libraries, of course. We call it Community Driven. Community Engagement. 21st Century. Advisory Committeed. Embedded Librarianship. Asset-based Community Development. No one person can take the credit because it is a complex organism that moves and shifts and grows. In my 10 years working at Gail Borden Public Library, I’ve seen this process many times. It can take various forms. It has been my honor to witness these metamorphosis, and my privilege to guide and nurture them, too. The key to success, I’ve found, is to hold the reigns loosely, with an attitude of appreciative inquiry. Here are some of my tips for successful transformative community projects:

  • Identify the right people, invite them to the table early on, and to lead specific segments according to their strengths and sphere of influence.
  • Communicate often and clearly according to how the message is best received (phone, email, text, in person).
  • Design the project into digestible chunks, typically in subcommittees with a chairperson or two. Each subcommittee is responsible for specific objectives and deadlines. The chairpersons report to the steering committee on a regular basis.
  • Employ staff who are connected, knowledgeable, passionate, not burdened under the weight of an assigned job. If need be, hire a temporary staff member to meet the need.
  • Allow the project to naturally reach its goal while coordinating many moving parts. The final outcome may look different from what you originally expected. I’ve found it always exceeds my expectation.
  • Benchmark and measure progress regularly, both quantitatively (the numbers) and quantitatively (the testimonials, energy, talk around town, word-of-mouth marketing).
  • Count volunteer time and in-kind donations. Include your library’s staff time, estimated overhead and supplies. Your time is valuable and should never be discredited.
  • Identify priorities. If you have limited staff, funds, space, make intentional decision for best possible scenarios.
  •  Let unimportant things fall through the cracks.
  • If someone does not hold up their end of the bargain, don’t rescue them. Next time you’ll be the wiser.
  • Write grants, proposals, letters, emails, make phone calls to allow funding to flow toward the project. Be willing to make The Ask for money for a project that your director and you believe in.
  • Be inclusive. Plan for language interpretation, hearing amplification, sign language, wheelchair accessibility or other technology.
  • Persevere when the road gets bumpy (because it almost always does).
  • Think positive and don’t get drawn into drama, infighting, power plays, politics.
  • Respect what each individual and organizational partner brings to the table, yet discern value and direction. Does it enhance the project or divert it?
  • Allow last minute and unplanned facets, subcommittees, opportunities and partners if they are strong assets that enhance the project even though you did not think of them earlier.
  • Be grateful and show it. (I use Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages principles.)
  • Recognize: Right Time. Right Project. Right People. When one of these 3 components are not on the table – Wait and watch for all 3 to arrive before digging in to a big project.
  • Expect Ripple Effects, positive outcomes that continue far beyond the original project, led by the community, fostered by the library.

Miriam Anderson Lytle is the Division Chief, Community Services & Program Development at the Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin, IL.

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This entry was posted in Advocacy, Outreach, Success Stories, Tips and Tools, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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