Forty-four participants -- library directors, librarians, outreach specialists, trustees, community volunteers and organizational partners -- convened in downtown Denver on May 20 for a three-day training with ALA and educators from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. They come from communities as small as Red Hook, N.Y., a village of 1,900 in upstate New York, and as large as Los Angeles. Some have years of experience with library-led community engagement and innovation; others are new to the field. Interestingly, it came out during introductions that many of the participants came to the library profession as a second, or even third, career.
The first step in the Harwood method is a frank conversation about your community's aspirations and the challenges to achieving those hopes. In a plenary session, the cohort members discovered many shared aspirations: a high-functioning government; healthy citizens; and an empowered, proud and highly literate population. Things like resistance to change, "brain drain" and (for rural communities) a lack of infrastructure get in their way.
One participant drew nods of agreement when she lamented a "loss of empathy" in her community. "Instead of fighting homelessness, people are waging a war on the homeless," she said. "Instead of fighting poverty, we're fighting the poor."
Next the cohort created a statement detailing the changes that would need to take place before the aspirations can be reached.
"To reach our aspirations," their statement said, "we need to show up with empathy and civility and create "spaces" where members of the community can come together, form relationships and have conversations about these aspirations and issues and decide what can be done together."
An Aspirations Tool -- available under the "Resources for Library Professionals" section of this website -- can help you lead aspirations conversations with your own community.