ALA, Harwood Institute release new tools to help libraries lead positive community change

For Immediate Release
Fri, 08/14/2015


Sarah Ostman

Communications Manager

ALA Public Programs Office


CHICAGO — The American Library Association (ALA), in partnership with The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, has released three new tools to help libraries engage their communities, focus efforts where they are needed most and lead positive community change.

The tools are the final pieces of a set of community engagement resources created for libraries as part of ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities initiative. Taken together, the collection — which includes worksheets, conversation guides and webinars — teaches libraries to “turn outward,” making their communities the reference point for the libraries’ work.

The new tools are designed for libraries that already have been putting the “turning outward” approach to use, or those that have attended a Harwood Institute training or orientation.

  • “Making It Stick with Staff” is a discussion guide to help libraries reflect on their changing outlook and make the “turning outward” approach part of their everyday work.
  • “Making Meaning of Data” helps libraries make sense of data about library usage and activity and use that information to create programs that better serves the community’s needs.
  • “Tracking Your Progress” provides a visual representation of the “turning outward” approach to help libraries visualize where they have been and where they are going next.

Deborah McCullough, deputy director of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County in Ohio, said the “Making It Stick with Staff” tool helped facilitate teamwork among her staff.

“‘Making It Stick with Staff’ was a great way to get staff to talk — and everyone participated! —about what the library has done to implement change,” McCullough said. “The questions were practical and specifically designed to keep the conversation going, and yet allowed for reflection and analysis.”

Created by The Harwood Institute, the “turning outward” approach emphasizes taking steps to better understand communities; changing processes and thinking to make conversations more community-focused; becoming more proactive to community issues; and putting community aspirations first.

Libraries and library professionals around the country are using this approach to:

  • lead conversations with community members to better understand their goals and concerns;
  • develop library strategic plans that benefit the library and the greater community;
  • connect with underserved segments of the library’s service area;
  • overcome political gridlock; and
  • create professional development opportunities that meet the library system’s needs.

The full collection of “turning outward” resources — including a 90-day “Step-by-Step Guide to ‘Turning Outward’ to Your Community” — can be downloaded, free of charge, at

The new tools were conceived with insight from the Libraries Transforming Communities Public Innovators Cohort, a group of 10 public libraries selected to take part in an intensive, 18-month training into the “turning outward” approach.

About Libraries Transforming Communities

Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) is an ALA initiative that seeks to strengthen libraries’ roles as core community leaders and change-agents. LTC addresses a critical need within the library field by developing and distributing new tools, resources and support for libraries to engage with their communities in new ways. As a result, ALA believes libraries will become more reflective of and connected to their communities and build stronger partnerships with local civic agencies, nonprofits, funders and corporations. The initiative is made possible through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 58,000 members in academic, public, school, government and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.

About The Harwood Institute

The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation is a national nonprofit organization based in Bethesda, Md., that teaches and coaches people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together. The institute is guided by Richard C. Harwood, whose transformational work during the past 25 years has spread to thousands of communities nationally and worldwide, from small towns to large cities.