Community-Centered Libraries: Another National Partner Perspective

By Community-Centered Libraries RSS Thu, May 28, 2020

Blog post author Amy Honisett is the Learning and Development Specialist for Multnomah County Library. Multnomah is the public library system for Portland, Oregon and a national partner in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Skills for Community-Centered Libraries initiative.


There is a lot of interest in community engagement at Multnomah County Library (MCL) and I was very excited to pilot the Community-Centered Libraries workshop series, to share this information with staff, and to determine what content we could modify for use later.

Multnomah County Library includes locations spread across about 466 square miles, with staff who work a variety of schedules. Since this was a pilot project, I wanted to make sure everyone for whom this content was relevant had the opportunity to participate in the workshop. So, I ran the series twice: once on Tuesday mornings at a location central to one portion of our service area, and once on Friday afternoons at our central library. I met with our Systemwide Outreach Team to make sure outreach staff were aware of the opportunity and to ensure I wasn’t duplicating or contradicting their work. I also promoted the class in our weekly online newsletter, describing it as an opportunity to learn about community engagement while assisting the Free Library of Philadelphia as they tested out their curriculum.

So many staff were interested in this workshop! I received messages from individuals across the system, in all sorts of roles, asking about what the sessions covered, whether the content would be useful for their jobs, and whether I would be offering the workshops again if they couldn’t make the dates I had scheduled. In the end, 28 staff members signed up for the workshops, and 25 completed them. We had a wide mix of staff members in the workshops – librarians, library assistants, access services staff, program coordinators, and managers. 

Once we began the workshops, it seemed that participants were energized, pretty familiar with the differences between outreach and engagement, and eager to talk with each other about their experiences. Having the opportunity to talk with colleagues they don’t get the chance to see very often, learning about what happens in their library locations, and sharing their perspectives were incredibly valuable parts of this workshop. 

Some participants felt that the workshops would have been better delivered to their own staff groups or to groups of staff in the same jobs, but in general, the cross-pollination that happened during these sessions was exciting. And while the curriculum developed by the Free Library did not align completely with the work we do at MCL, it supported great discussions and led to a deeper understanding of some of the concepts for a variety of participants.

Facilitating two different groups allowed me to see that while different parts of the curriculum resonated with different staff members, having this dedicated time to talk with each other about their jobs, about serving the community, and about their hopes and aspirations for the library and the community was a great value. Learning about the SOAR model (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results) in the final workshop session was the most valuable to both groups and seemed like a great way to sum up the series. We enjoyed taking an appreciative approach to the future, and we appreciated the opportunity to be part of this pilot!


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