LTC Public Innovators Cohort

LTC Public Innovators Cohort

In April 2014, 10 public libraries were chosen from across the country to participate in an intensive, team-based community engagement training program as part of ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) initiative.

Over 18 months, the libraries will train with educators from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and apply the training to challenges in their own communities. They will develop community engagement action plans rooted in the “turning outward” approach, create new partnerships, facilitate community conversations, and hopefully spark increased energy and commitment to overcoming community challenges.

Their experiences in library-led community engagement and innovation will serve as examples and provide a learning experience for the field. For updates about the cohort’s work, visit the LTC blog.

Read more about the LTC cohort libraries:
Red Hook (N.Y) Public Library (pop: 1,900) Springfield (Mass). Public Library (pop: 153,000)
Columbus (Wis.) Public Library (pop: 5,000) Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Public Library (pop:195,000)
Knox County (Ind.) Public Library (pop: 33,900) Spokane County (Wash.) Library District (pop: 255,000)
Suffolk (Va.) Public Library (pop: 85,000) San Jose (Calif.) Public Library (pop: 980,000)
Hartford (Conn.) Public Library (pop: 125,000) Los Angeles (Calif.) Public Library (pop: 3.8 million)

Red Hook (N.Y.) Public Library (pop: 1,900)

Red Hook (N.Y.) Public Library

Team members: Red Hook Deputy Mayor Brent Kovalchik, Library Director Erica Freudenberger, Associate Director Erin Cannan, Head of Circulation Shelley Herrick and volunteer Jayne McLaughlin

Red Hook is situated in the Hudson River Valley about two hours north of New York City, a location that provides residents easy access to both Albany and NYC. The idyllic village is named from the Dutch "Roode Hoeck” — meaning “red peninsula” —after the red-leafed trees that once lined the riverbanks.

While tiny, Red Hook is also lively; its streets are frequented by students from Bard College, a private liberal arts college of 2,000 undergraduates located less than three miles from downtown. Red Hook Public Library remains a vibrant center in the village’s business district; it earned a coveted “5 star” rating from Library Journal in 2013. With just two full-time employees, the library serves 4,500 cardholders through literacy programs, workforce development and programming on pressing issues like drug abuse and health care. It also participates in Red Hook Together, a coalition of area civic and nonprofit organizations. Through LTC, the library wishes to re-imagine Red Hook by better harnessing the resources, knowledge and artistic talent abundant in the community.

Columbus (Wis.) Public Library (pop: 5,000)

Columbus (Wis.) Public Library

Team members: Youth Services & Outreach Consultant Shawn Brommer, Youth Services Director Katrina Dombrowsky, Trustee Mary Lou Sharpee, Library Director Cindy Fesmeyer and Community Liaison/Service Specialist Bruce Smith

Since 1912, the Carnegie Library has been a central part of downtown Columbus, Wis.; today, the Claude and Stark Prairie School-style building is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, the surrounding community has undergone a significant shift. As in many former farming communities, recent years have seen new homes popping up on Columbus’ farmland. Longtime residents are moving or commuting to Madison, 30 miles away, and younger, more diverse populations are calling Columbus their home.

Columbus Public Library serves over 9,000 patrons, many from the city’s growing Latino community. In response to these changing demographics, the library has expanded its Spanish-language collection and tripled its adult programming. Through LTC, the library hopes to position itself at the heart of a changing Columbus and to help residents be heard. “The library, already an agent of change in our community, can be at the center of Columbus’ continued evolution,” says the library’s director, Cindy Fesemyer.

Knox County (Ind.) Public Library (pop: 33,900)

Knox County (Ind.) Public Library

Team members: Library Director Emily Bunyan, community member Lillian Klipsch, Board President Thelma Morrison, Circulation Supervisor Paula Smith and Community Liaison Randy Crismore.

Since 1889, the Knox County Public Library has served the area surrounding Vincennes, a city of roughly 18,000 in Indiana’s southwestern corner. Known as the oldest city in Indiana — it was once a French fur-trading post — Vincennes is now home to Vincennes University, one of the area’s largest employers, as well as a hospital and several coal mines. The city is ethnically homogenous — 95 percent of residents are white — but there are great disparities in socioeconomic status and education. Despite having a university in town, just 15 percent of residents have received a bachelor’s degree.

One of two public libraries in the region, Knox County Public Library’s 24 staff members serve 33,924 area residents. Notable library programs include a Cargill Literacy Quiz Bowl to raise money for adult literacy efforts; Kindergartners Count, a book-distribution partnership with the Rotary Club; and a discussion series entitled Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The library is partnering with the local United Way in its Harwood-based effort to offer community conversations in the library, recreation centers and places of worship throughout the county. The library staff will use their LTC training to become more strategic in helping the community reach its aspirations, and also to bring fresh consensus-building strategies to the table to overcome challenges that have reached a stalemate.

Suffolk (Va.) Public Library (pop: 85,000)

Suffolk (Va.) Public Library

Team members: Marketing & Community Relations Coordinator Ben Scott, Information & Program Services Manager Melinda Brown, Outreach Services Manager Sarah Townsend and Library Director Clint Rudy

Located near the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia’s southeastern corner, the city of Suffolk is home to 85,000 people. But with the city’s huge expanse of land — at 429 square miles, it is the largest in the state — gives much of the area a more rural feel. Tapping into those scattered populations is one of the challenges facing the Suffolk Public Library. The system currently serves Suffolk residents at three locations and with a traveling book-mobile, but the system is growing; a new branch is planned for the downtown area, where the demand for resources is high.

The library is also in the midst of internal transition: a new director and management team are working to position the library as a center for community outreach and a meeting point for community organizations. “The timing is perfect to harness that enthusiasm and move forward with the development of a meaningful, dynamic community engagement plan,” says Outreach Services Manager Sarah Townsend. “Suffolk is a community with a lot of need, but it is also a community ready for change. The LTC focus of turning outward and innovation was exactly what we were looking for.”

Hartford (Conn.) Public Library (pop: 125,000)

Hartford (Conn.) Public Library

Team members: CEO Matthew Poland, Multicultural Services Director Homa Naficy, Community Engagement Director Richard Frieder, Public Services Director Corey Fleming. Not pictured: Chief Cultural Affairs and Public Programming Officer Brenda Miller

As it nears its 400th birthday, Hartford remains a historic city rooted in innovation, literature and the arts. Home to 125,000 residents within its 18 square miles, the city’s rich and diverse culture results from a population representing more than 24 countries and speaking more than 70 languages. One of many cities affected by mid-century urban flight, Hartford is in the midst of revitalization, as support for small businesses, entrepreneurs and local investment grows and an increasing downtown population thrives. However, Hartford continues to face unique challenges; a poverty rate of over 35 percent, low literacy and a large student achievement gap create the need for more effective and supportive community services.

Integral to Hartford’s continued growth is the Hartford Public Library (HPL), whose innovative community partnerships and work in the areas of immigration and citizenship, career services and early literacy have earned it praise as a leader in library-led community engagement. In one ongoing project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the HPL holds community conversations and has developed a network of “cultural navigators” in Hartford’s Asylum Hill neighborhood to forge bonds between immigrants and their receiving community. Serving the residents of Hartford and beyond at its nine branches and downtown location, HPL receives more than 860,000 visits per year from adults, children and families seeking early literacy opportunities, work skills training, civic engagement, arts enrichment, and more. Through its participation in LTC, HPL hopes to deepen and broaden its capacity and become as effective as possible in serving the Hartford community and leading positive change.

Springfield (Mass.) City Library (pop: 153,000)

Springfield (Mass.) Public Library

Team members: Library Director Molly Fogarty, Reference Librarian Christine Amatrudo, Branch Supervisor Jeff Lambert, Manager of Public Services Jean Canosa Albano and Reference Librarian Emma Sachs Peterson

Located in western Massachusetts, Springfield is the largest city in western New England. The city prides itself as the birthplace of many modern innovations — among them the sport of basketball, the first American gas-powered car, and the Merriam Webster Dictionary — as well as its proximity to 25 colleges and universities. More recently, the city has struggled with crime and a decades-long decline in industry, which have hurt its reputation. The city’s struggles for years threatened the Springfield City Library, and in 2010 the cash-strapped city cut back the library’s hours.

Today, revitalization projects are prompting a comeback, and the same is true at the library; the Re-Think Springfield Library Plan has helped the library nearly double its service hours and learn to operate more sustainably. The plan includes five areas of focus: early literacy, after-school programs, workforce development, adult literacy/lifelong learning, and civic and community engagement. The library hopes its involvement in LTC will inform efforts in those areas and help forge partnerships.

Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Public Library (pop: 195,000)

The Tuscaloosa Public Library LTC team: Marti Ball, Vince Bellofatto, Amy Patton, Rick Freemon, Pamela Williamson and blog author Larry Boothe

Team members: Weaver Bolden Branch Manager Marti Ball, Director of Public Relations and Communications Vince Bellofatto, Director of Collection Development Amy Patton, executive director Rick Freemon, Assistant Director of Public Services Pamela Williamson and Library Associate Larry Boothe

Tuscaloosa is Alabama’s fifth largest city and a center for industry, commerce and education in the west-central part of the state. Praise for the city abounds: it was named one of the “50 Best Places to Launch a Small Business” (Fortune Small Business, 2009) and "the Most Livable City in America" (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2011). But Tuscaloosa was dealt a blow on April 27, 2011, when a tornado swept through the area with 190 mph winds, killing 64 people, injuring 1,500 others, and destroying one in eight homes. Damages were estimated at $2.45 billion, making it, at the time, the costliest tornado in U.S. history.

The city’s challenges don’t end there; illiteracy is a significant concern, with 23 percent of adults unable to read. Tuscaloosa Public Library is working to address this problem with its new strategic plan and through partnerships with United Way, the Literacy Council of West Alabama, local universities, business leaders and others. Through LTC, the library hopes to engage Tuscaloosa in a well-planned effort to increase opportunities for chronically and historically underserved community members.

Spokane County (Wash.) Library District (pop: 255,000)

Spokane (Wash.) Library District

Team members: Deputy Director Patrick Roewe, community member Ann Apperson, Executive Director Nancy Ledeboer, Librarian Amber Williams and Librarian Aileen Luppert

Located on the easternmost edge of Washington State, Spokane County consists of 1,700 square miles of scenic rivers, lakes and mountains. In 1942, voters created Spokane County Library District to serve the areas outside of the Spokane city limits. Today, the district’s 174 employees serve 11 suburban and rural cities and towns with 10 libraries. Median household income in Spokane County is 16 percent below the state average, and the values of independence, self-sufficiency and a pioneering spirit reign — a mindset that, while commendable, can create challenges for libraries wishing to engage all segments of the population.

The library staff plans to use their “turning outward” training to improve their community conversation facilitation skills, engage greater numbers of residents, and prompt active growth within the county. “We think that our district is already a gathering place for information and interaction,” says Deputy Director Patrick Roewe. “We want to learn how to use our unique position to effect the kind of change and growth that will transform a community.”

San Jose (Calif.) Public Library (pop: 980,000)

San Jose (Calif.) Public Library

Team members: Policy and Organizing Program Director Priya Murthy (Services, Immigration Rights, and Education Network), Recreation Supervisor Kiersten McCormick, Senior Librarian Michelle Amores, Librarian II Randall Studstill and Division Manager for Literacy and Learning Angie Miraflor

Known as the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” San Jose is often associated with affluence: households in the city have the highest average disposable income of any major U.S. city. But that wealth — and the inflated cost of living that accompanies it — wallops low-income residents, many of whom are immigrants lacking formal education and English language skills. The Seven Trees community is home to many of these low-income residents: nearly half of the community’s residents are immigrants, largely people from Mexico and Vietnam, and more than one-third of the population lacks a high school diploma. Gang activity is a significant concern.

San Jose’s LTC project will take place at Seven Trees Library. By “turning outward,” the staff hopes to more clearly define their role in the community and learn to operate in a way that will make the biggest possible impact. “The Seven Trees Branch, our partners and many other dedicated individuals and groups are already making a difference,” says librarian Randall Studstill. “But these problems can’t be solved without strong, wide-ranging community engagement and the combined, coordinated effort of residents, organizations, businesses and other stakeholders.”

Los Angeles (Calif.) Public Library (pop: 3.8 million)

Los Angeles (Calif.) Public Library

Team members: Board Member Penny Meyer, Senior Librarian Madeleine Ildefonso, Senior Librarian Kelly Tyler and Training Development Manager Gloria Grover

The Los Angeles Public Library system is huge: 73 branches serving 3.8 million residents; 18,700 library programs per year; and a $123 million annual budget. The system’s LTC work will be focused at Van Nuys Public Library, a branch serving more than 100,000 residents in the city’s San Fernando Valley region. The Van Nuys population is growing and young: the number of residents aged 10 and younger and 19 to 34 are among the country’s highest. Low employment is a concern — almost 30 percent of adults have not attained a high school diploma — and less than 50 percent of adults speak English. These factors may be contributing to a sense of community disengagement among residents; a recent city council special election saw a meager 5 percent voter turnout.

The Van Nuys Public Library offers multilingual citizenship programs and health outreach programs about obesity, nutrition and healthy living, and works with state health agencies to help residents apply for government health care programs. As part of LTC, the library wants to build a network of community nonprofits that can work together to serve residents.