Conversations Between Libraries and Communities Spark Program Ideas

By Community-Centered Libraries Fri, September 7, 2018
Danza Azteca del Anahuac perform at Parkway Central
Danza Azteca del Anahuac perform at Parkway Central
The domino effect
The domino effect
The Phragmites Institute of Material Culture
The Phragmites Institute of Material Culture

In a previous post, we shared some stories about how meetings between libraries and other community organizations can lead to what the American Library Association calls the “domino effect of positive results.” One potential outcome of conversations between library staff and community residents and stakeholders is ideas for new library programs and events.

Our upcoming Community-Centered Libraries workshops will provide staff with the opportunity to refine their program development skills. Until then, check out these examples from Free Library staff:

When she was a Librarian at the Greater Olney Library, Free Library staffer Christina Patton introduced herself to Stephanie Michel, Director of the North 5th Street Revitalization Project. "We decided to collaborate on educational business programs, and ended up running a very well attended program on business resources available from the City of Philadelphia’s Commerce Department. At the meeting, patrons with similar interests in starting and growing businesses met each other. I met a patron who was working on a business plan and I helped him access demographic information he needed." 

South/Central Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries Coordinator Mary Marques spent two years building connections with the Mexican Consulate, Mexican Cultural Center, and Acción Colombia. "I told them about why I work at the library in order to build connections, and we shared our passion for civic engagement, inclusion, and diversity. As a result, I worked on promoting the Mexican group Danza Azteca del Anahuac performance at Parkway Central Library during Immigrant Heritage Month. A diverse group of 80 people attended, and patrons with similar interests in cultural awareness met each other. There was a positive result in the community that included cultural awareness and embracing diversity."

Sometimes just saying hello to a customer can generate a new program idea. Community Initiative Specialist Shahada Abdul-Rashid was admiring the beehive at the Richmond Library, and she greeted Lorrie Gross who was reading nearby. "I introduced myself and my role in the library, and this inspired the patron to inform me of some of her interests. She told me about her museum, called the Phragmites Institute of Material Culture. She invited the library manager Amy Thatcher and me to explore her community gem, a local (and fairly unknown) museum. We learned about all of the skills that this local historian and artist has to offer. We are now planning a collaborative class at the library, and possibly an interactive museum-based club with the sculptures and exhibits she has created."

Another way to promote community conversations is to invite people to attend a meeting. Far Northeast Neighborhood Libraries Leader Julie Doty invited an instructor from Holy Family University to a Community Council meeting. The instructor learned about Torresdale Library’s sensory storytimes and other programming for children with autism, and arranged with Library Manager Ann Hornbach for an education class to observe the programming. Julie talked about this connection with other libraries in the cluster, and Bustleton Library Manager Kristin Sawka took it a step further. Kristin "facilitated a partnership between the education class at Holy Family and a group of students at George Washington High School who wanted to become elementary school teachers. The Holy Family students did workshops for the high school students on the steps required to become a teacher and the nature of the work. Kristin held a storytelling training at one of these sessions, "since librarians and teachers both need to know how to read aloud effectively to children."    

Are you seeking innovative ideas for programs, events, and collaborations? If you work at a library, talk to patrons and introduce yourself to people in the neighborhood. If you live near a library—and with 54 locations in Philadelphia, we all do—stop by and chat with a staff member. You never know what the result of the conversation could be.


The Community-Centered Libraries initiative was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [grant #RE-95-17-0089-17].


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