Midwest Collaborative for Library Services: Investing in Libraries as Public Innovators in Indiana

Randy Dykhuis, Executive Director, Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLS)Randy Dykhuis is executive director of the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLS). Here, he discusses his organization's work with the "Turning Outward" approach. In 2015, the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLS) paid for 23 librarians from Indiana to attend the ALA/Harwood Institute Public Innovators Lab for Libraries, held in Detroit. 

In May, we funded 10 librarians to participate in the Harwood Institute's first-ever Virtual Public Innovators Lab and will send 15 more to the lab for libraries Atlanta lab this October. 

Another Indiana library, Knox County Public Library, was part of ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities initiative supported by the Gates Foundation. Still others attended labs with their own funds. 

This means that well over 50 librarians in Indiana are Harwood-trained public innovators. It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm that these librarians are bringing to their work and the ways that they are beginning to "Turn Outward" as they work to transform their communities. 

MCLS began using the Harwood tools in late 2013 because we were looking for ways to engage more effectively with our members. As we conducted community conversations and presented at conferences and meetings around the state, we discovered a deep yearning among librarians to become more engaged with local communities. That led us to design programs where attendees could see the Harwood approach in action. We often provided the workbooks available for download from the ALA website. But we kept hearing requests for more training and more in-depth learning opportunities.

While this was going on, MCLS’s Indianapolis building was for sale. In mid-2014, we received an offer, accepted it and closed in August. That netted us about $250,000. Because of its location and past importance to Indiana libraries, the MCLS board determined that the proceeds ought to be used for the benefit of our Indiana members. In June 2015, the board approved a proposal to allocate $50,000 per year for five years on projects for the good of Indiana libraries. Because of work with the Harwood tools, we knew that librarians in the state were eager to learn more about community engagement. It was the perfect opportunity for us to provide significant funding for professional development that could make a big difference, not just for Indiana libraries, but also for the communities they serve.

The response to our first call for applications was overwhelming, and we continue to see a lot of enthusiasm for learning about authentic community engagement. It has been gratifying, too, to know that the process works. Before embarking on our own community engagement initiative, we had no idea that so many librarians in our service area had the aspiration to "Turn Outward" and become public innovators themselves. 

We will continue to look for ways to be more valuable to our members and become more effective at engaging with our community, which is our member libraries in Michigan and Indiana. We expect that will mean more work with the Harwood Institute and utilizing the framework that they bring to community engagement.

For information about upcoming Public Innovators Labs, visit the Libraries Transforming Communities Attend a Training page.

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