Bloomfield-Eastern Greene County Public Library: Coming Home from the Public Innovators Lab for Libraries

Bloomfield-Eastern Greene County Public Library sent two staff members to the ALA/Harwood Institute Public Innovators Lab for Libraries in 2015. Here, Library Director Austin Stroud shares the experience of putting the Turning Outward process to work after returning home.
In October 2015 a colleague, Reena Evans, and I from the Bloomfield-Eastern Greene County Public Library in Bloomfield, Ind., had the opportunity to attend the ALA/Harwood Institute Public Innovators Lab for Libraries in Detroit, Mich. The library serves a rural population of just over 15,000 in six townships in south central Indiana. Our experience in Detroit was thanks to a scholarship we were awarded from Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLS). When I got back, I blogged about the highlights of my experience there as well as about the common post-conference funk. If you are interested in checking that out, you can read more on MCLS’ website.
At a Public Innovators Lab for LibrariesHow have things changed at the library since our Public Innovators Lab experience? The changes have been slow. That’s the hardest part about coming back from this experience; you want to do all the things right away, but change is not easy, and the process of turning the library more outward to the community will take time. However, we have been able to make a few small changes since we got back:  
For years, our adult programming has struggled to gain any attendance. Reena’s job title when she attended the Public Innovators Lab was adult programming coordinator. After she got back, I changed her focus more to community engagement, and her job title changed to community engagement coordinator as a result. We needed to make community engagement more of a priority, and having someone that has it as their main focus on staff is helpful in making that happen. We are focusing on doing more programming out in the community and getting to know what people — especially those who may not use the library at this time — want. Providing regular programming for the hard-to-reach and bringing in millennials is something we also have been doing better with. Regular gaming programs, headed by a millennial on staff, have been a success at the library.
During our annual staff training day on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Reena and I led the library staff through a community conversation. We are working to connect this with our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan that must be completed by the end of 2016. One of our main goals will focus on strengthening the community and the library’s role within that.  
Our county has several unserved townships that do not pay library tax, so we are trying to use this Public Innovators Lab experience as a springboard for increasing our service area and getting all of our county served by a public library. The Greene County Literacy Coalition and our library were awarded a grant from the county foundation to place Little Free Libraries throughout the county in the unserved and underserved areas. Only three have launched so far, but at least 13 more are planned over the next two years.  At the May 2016 Board of Trustees meeting, three members of the state library’s staff came to present to us about expanding the service area.  

Austin Stroud at the town's farmer's market

Last year, the library had a weekly presence at the town’s farmer’s market (shown at left). The farmer’s market struggled as a whole, so Reena (and I to a lesser extent) have worked hard on getting involved in making the market better for all in the community. We have listened to feedback and learned from our experience of last year. We have been a part of a Bloomfield Downtown Revitalization group’s promotions committee specifically tasked with planning the 2016 farmer’s market. Reena attended a town board meeting and played a big role in the hours of the market changing from 5 to 8 p.m. to 4:30 to 7 p.m. Last year, very few people attended the last hour, and we wanted to be able to catch more people before they got off work/left the downtown area. No one wants to make a special trip back to town after they get home on a Friday night! Reena also has made the library responsible for booking entertainment for most of the farmer’s market weeks, including live bands and dancing groups. 
As you can see, we have been very busy getting things done slowly but steadily. We are looking forward to doing much more, and are excited to see our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan shape up with this experience at the center of it all.  
For more information about the ALA/Harwood Institute Public Innovators Lab for Libraries and other training opportunities, visit the LTC Attend a Training page.
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