The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Cluster Leaders – staff who supervise 5 to 8 neighborhood libraries grouped together geographically – recently discussed what the American Library Association calls the "domino effect of positive results" that occurs when library staff build stronger relationships with local organizations.
Let's take a look at some of their domino stories:
Northeast Neighborhood Libraries Leader Andrea Zimmerman met with the Castor, Bustleton & Cottman Business Association, which connected her to Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association. They told her "about their early literacy needs assessment study in Oxford Circle and their funding proposal to run a pilot based on the results of the needs assessment. I learned more about the issue of diverse populations in relation to early literacy, and began to work on a plan where the libraries can be a strategic partner. I am trying to see where the local libraries can plug in to support this work."
In South Philadelphia, Tiffany Nardella, who at the time was a Special Projects Manager and chair of the New Americans Committee, met with the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition, Inc. and learned about their work with refugees, immigrants, and new citizens. According to Tiffany, "At the same time I was doing some work with another organization who was working on a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded Voting Signage Project. Here’s My Chance was creating a public art project during Election Day 2015 that involved place-making and way-finding for polling locations. Creating welcoming environments and encouraging citizens to vote were common goals of both organizations. I introduced SEAMAAC and Here’s My Chance to each other and as a result the public art included multiple languages at polls in South Philadelphia and perhaps other communities." When the new South Philadelphia library opened, SEMAAC became an active partner in the new shared space.
At Lovett Memorial Library, Northwest Neighborhood Libraries Leader Sandy Thompson collaborates regularly with the neighborhood organization Mount Airy USA. The recent reopening of Lovett Park, which surrounds the newly expanded library, has sparked a conversation about community engagement. Sandy said she has "learned more about what the larger community wants to see in the space, and how the space should be used to meet diverse needs." Mount Airy USA and Lovett Memorial Library are part of the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative funded by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The William Penn Foundation that also includes the Fairmount Park Conservancy. Sandy says that the domino effect of positive results here is an increase in use of the park, and "people coming together to share ideas of ways to further activate the space."
In Port Richmond and Fishtown, funding and services for seniors were cut. Library staff identified a void that could be filled by using the library as a community resource. Veronica Britto, Cluster Administrator for the Central Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries, shared the domino story of Community Initiative Specialist Shahada Abdul-Rashid’s work with two organizations that serve seniors. Shahada connected with Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church and St. Anne’s Senior Community Center. Shahada explained, "I reached out to the managers of each center for a tour and overview of their services. I was also able to gather information directly from the residents about what they needed and wanted and how the library could play a role filling the gaps. In addition to providing the residents with library cards, I connected the organizations with the Library’s existing senior services, programs, and activities."
When these staff members began meeting with organizations in their communities, they were not sure what the end result would be, but the dominoes fell in ways that created positive impact. Our upcoming Community-Centered Libraries workshops will provide staff with the opportunity to share and sharpen their community engagement skills.
What is something you have tried that created a positive, and even unexpected, result?
The Community-Centered Libraries initiative was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [grant #RE-95-17-0089-17].