ALA Staff Turning Outward

In 2014-15, ALA began the process of Turning Outward as part of its Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) initiative. For ALA staff, this has meant the opportunity to participate in support sessions led by The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. All staff are welcome to learn about this approach to better serve the needs and aspirations of our community. For tools, learning sessions and resource on Turning Outward, visit the Turning Outward Resources for Libraries page.

Why is ALA Turning Outward?

During the past year, our community – ALA members, staff and the library field – has embraced the Harwood approach to community engagement, as evidenced in the 10 communities participating in the library cohort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in high attendance at training and introductions offered at numerous ALA and PLA conference programs, in the Kitchen Table Conversations in which member insights help form ALA's strategic goals.

In an email to staff, then-ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels summed it up by saying, “My hope is that any staff member or unit that is interested in learning more about and/or using the techniques to better engage with the particular “community” they serve will be able to attend one or more (training) sessions. I do believe that ALA is already benefiting from becoming less 'inwardly' or institutionally-focused and better attuned to the aspirations of our library 'community.'" 

Below, see how ALA staff members are using the LTC tools in their work:



Turn Outward to Your Community
Turn Outward to Your Community

Understand your community's hopes and goals and help make them a reality

Put in place thought processes that will lead to long-term change

Facilitate conversations that will help your members express their thoughts and be heard

Share your newfound knowledge and evaluate your progress

Turn Outward A short quiz to help you and your team understand what it means to “turn outward” toward the community
  • Illustrates what the concept of “turning outward” means in practice and lays the groundwork for future action
  • Use individually or with a group, such as in a staff meeting or board retreat
Lorelle Swader, director, Office of Human Resource Development and Recruitment
   "I used the 'Turning Outward' tool after our staff training in April 2014. I was all in; our placement center seemed like a natural place to apply the 'turning outward' approach, so I started using the tools with my staff to see how we could better help job-seekers. One of the biggest barriers I encountered was keeping people on track during the exercise. Some people responded by saying, 'Why can't we just do x, y or z? Can't we skip to the end?' But if you follow the steps, it gets easier. I later tried the tools with my committees, and it went more smoothly."
Innovation Spaces Regularly scheduled meetings (once every four weeks) to bring members of your team together to focus on what you're learning and identify implications for your work going forward
  • Time set aside for asking "what are we learning?"—not "what are we doing?"
  • Taking time to reflect on what you are learning helps your team maintain a turned-outward mindset
Wendy Prellwitz, interim director, Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services
   "I started using two exercises – 'Innovation Spaces' and 'Community Rhythms' – with the Spectrum advisory committee, both were helpful tools for running meetings and they helped the Advisory committee harness a larger body of members' ideas in order to introduce innovations to the scholarship program while maintaining an already robust work plan. The Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion used the ASK exercise to facilitate a Midwinter conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion with 80+ members. It was a great way to hear members' concerns while keeping the conversation productive and positive. Additionally, the training we have received as staff around becoming public innovators and subsequent work with members (provided there are more than three people from three institutions present) using these methods counts toward my CAE professional development hours."
Community Rhythms Questions and tools to help you assess your community's "stage"—its readiness for and receptivity to change—and use that knowledge to take action
  • Meeting your community "where it's at" will make your community engagement plan more effective
  • Helps you take what you have learned from community conversations and translate that knowledge into action that will effect lasting and positive change
  • Helps you determine which actions to take alone and which to take with partners

Past ALA Staff Training Opportunities

ALA All Staff Session

Thursday, December 10, 2015, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Nicholas Center of St. James Episcopal Diocese of Chicago

This All Staff Development Day included 183 ALA staff from Chicago, DC, Connecticut and Philadelphia, and was facilitated by Cheryl Gorman, a consultant from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. The day focused on how “turning outward” can help ALA become more innovative and better serve its users. An hour was set aside for unit groups to discuss a challenge or problem or issue that they face, and how turning outward might help them take a more innovative approach to solving that problem or addressing that challenge or issue. Staff used the Turn Outward and Innovation Space tools as well as the World Café approach to issues exploration.

Download the PowerPoint  that was presented, and contact Mary Davis Fournier ( or Brian Russell ( for more information.

"Working Effectively Together"

Tuesday, April 7, 9:30 a.m. to noon, Carnegie Room, ALA headquarters

This facilitated community conversation focused on how we can work together more effectively by looking outward. During this professional development session, attendees heard tips from colleagues who are using the turning outward approach in their work with teams, peers and members. This session was for staff already familiar with the approach, as well as others interested in learning more. Contact Mary Davis Fournier ( or Brian Russell ( for more information.

Read all of the notes from the session.  

"Making ALA More Welcoming"

Monday, April 6, 2:30 to 4 p.m., Carnegie Room, ALA headquarters

This staff committee facilitated a discussion about future goal areas for the group’s activities. The ongoing work of this committee focuses on the membership experience; the group meets regularly and is open to all. You can also join the ALA Connect Group. Contact Ron Jankowski ( for more information.

Intentionality Forums

April 7 and 8, 2014

Fifty ALA staff members participated in a Harwood Institute-facilitated professional development activity on April 7 and 8, 2014. These Intentionality Forums trained staff with Harwood’s “turning outward” approach, which entails revising your decision-making, processes and outlook to better serve the needs and aspirations of your community. The training focused largely on how to improve the ALA member experience.

The Intentionality Forums — part of ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) initiative — had three goals:

  • A deeper shared understanding of the ALA community’s aspirations. (The ALA community is ALA members, volunteers and staff.)
  • A grasp of concrete tools that we can all use individually, for a variety of purposes, in our work. 
  • A sense of confidence that we can use these tools individually and collectively to make our existing work more effective.


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Get started with the free e-course, "Libraries Transforming Communities: Facilitation Skills for Small and Rural Libraries."

LTC: Accessible Small and Rural Communities will offer more than $7 million in grants to better serve people with disabilities.

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Learn basic facilitation skills with ALA's free guide, "Leading Conversations in Small and Rural Libraries."