Testing the "Skills for Community-Centered Libraries" Workshops in Small Rural Libraries

By Community-Centered Libraries RSS Fri, December 13, 2019

The Free Library of Philadelphia’s "Skills for Community-Centered Libraries" training curriculum was recently piloted in two other locations, Shippensburg, PA, and Columbus, WI. While the curriculum was developed here in Philadelphia, the content is relevant in small, more rural environments, too. 

In September 2019, we traveled to the Coy Public Library of Shippensburg in Central PA  to run four workshops over two days. About a dozen coworkers who have various roles at the Coy Library participated in these sessions. After the workshops, Library Director Jody Cole, a national advisor to the Free Library’s IMLS-funded project, reported:

"In the Building Connections workshop, we focused on personal strengths, team roles, and networking. We were in the middle of a hectic month with preparing for a naming ceremony and annual library celebration, so it was good to have a real event to figure out how we would work as a team to get everything done. The Community Engagement workshop gave us a chance to outline the many assets we have. We determined that the best way for us to lay it out so we all can see is through Google Maps. We’ll share that on a drive and hopefully update it as we identify new assets."

"The Effective Communication workshop resonated the most with all of us. We spent a good amount of time then and since talking and thinking about visualizing ourselves and others as icebergs, with a lot going on beneath the surface. The Program Development workshop was new material for some staff. All of us related to the need for evaluation, though, and the need for short, effective surveys."

After the workshops, the Shippensburg staff reflected on the training experience, focusing on elements they could integrate into their daily work: pausing a moment to consider what staff and community members are saying, approaching people about ideas for new programs, and holding a community discussion in collaboration with the local Rotary organization.

From August through October 2019, the workshops took a different form in Wisconsin. Cindy Fesemyer, currently the Adult and Community Services consultant for the State of Wisconsin’s Public Library Development Team, is another member of our national advisory group. When this project started, Cindy was the Library Director in Columbus, Wisconsin and she enjoyed a close relationship with the other nine Library Directors in Columbia County, WI. She decided to share the four workshops with this group. Cindy explained, 

"Leading the training for my fellow directors definitely ended up feeling like a train-the-trainer situation for me. As library professionals who were already paying good attention to the communities we serve, we looked at the workshops as a way to further our community engagement efforts by training library staff members to look toward the community for inspiration."

"Participants really connected with the Iceberg exercise and the SOAR analysis. The Iceberg helped us and our staff members provide better customer service by understanding that people are much more than we see from behind a circulation desk. We changed how we used the curriculum for the SOAR analysis. Four different librarians took the reins and facilitated each of the sections (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) so we could get some facilitation skills under our belts. A further variation had us using this method specifically to analyze our approach to the County Finance Committee at budget time. Using SOAR, we built a compelling case for increased financial support of the libraries."

"I’ve since left my position at the Columbus Public Library and now work for the Wisconsin State Library. I’ve brought the four workshops with me and look forward to finding ways to build them into an upcoming state-wide training. Thanks for the opportunity to learn your training program and further increase my dedication and devotion to all things community engagement."


The Free Library is updating and improving the curriculum material based on feedback from Shippensburg, Wisconsin, and Philadelphia participants. In upcoming posts, we will report on the five additional library systems that are testing the revised materials, which will be freely available in September 2020. 


This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [Grant #RE-95-17-0089-17]


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