Knology, a nonprofit research organization that produces practical social science for a better world, has partnered with the ALA Public Programs Office to evaluate Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) since 2014. The organization pursues this goal to help professionals in a variety of sectors build inclusive, informed, and cooperative societies that can thrive together with the natural systems on which we all depend. As a transdisciplinary collective of over 30 social scientists, writers and educators, Knology’s work process is built on equity, transparency and deliberation.
Research and evaluation of LTC has gone through several phases as the initiative has grown and changed over time. The design for each phase has been a mixed methods approach to data collection and analysis where findings are triangulated to ensure validity. Qualitative and quantitative methods have included surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other ways of learning about the impact of LTC on libraries and their communities. Feel free to read more about the evaluation below, or contact Knology (formerly New Knowledge Organization Ltd.) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LTC: Accessible Small and Rural Communities
The most recent phase of LTC will see more than $7 million in grant funds distributed to small and rural libraries to increase the accessibility of facilities, services, and programs to better serve people with disabilities. This funding also represents a valuable research opportunity to study how this increased access is making a difference in people’s lives - both those who work in libraries and the communities they serve. Knology has compiled a Landscape Review (available soon) to capture what is currently known about libraries serving people with disabilities and will continue working with ALA and grantees to gather data, including visiting several libraries in small and rural communities.
LTC: Focus on Small & Rural Libraries
In 2020 and 2021, the American Library Association selected 567 libraries to receive grants through LTC: Focus on Small & Rural Libraries. Grantees completed the LTC eCourse and learned various strategies for engaging their communities. Knology’s research focused on exploring how libraries respond to communities’ needs and work with community partners, especially given extra challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers also identified skills needed to do the work effectively - skills that are specific to those working in small and rural communities. Through in-depth interviews, focus groups, and analysis of grantee reports, Knology surfaced powerful stories of change in communities across the country.
LTC: Facilitation Skills for Small and Rural Libraries
As part of this LTC initiative, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, ALA developed an asynchronous eCourse, originally consisting of five modules (a sixth was added during COVID-19 to focus on facilitating virtual programs), and a corresponding Facilitation Guide. To support libraries’ progress through the eCourse, virtual coaching was led by facilitators from the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation. Knology’s multi-pronged evaluation measured trainees’ understanding of and interest in facilitation, and confidence to apply what they learned.
LTC: Models for Change
The goals of LTC: Models for Change were to provide relevant and accessible opportunities for library workers to build needed skills and abilities that they will use to understand and forge stronger community relationships, and to communicate opportunities and outcomes to the field to spread and support the practice. To achieve these goals, ALA led professional development activities and made related resources available to libraries serving large urban populations, academic libraries, and those in small/rural communities. Summative evaluation was based on outcome indicators such as how many library workers applied what they learned, collaborated with community partners, and participated in communities of practice. Data collection methods included online surveys, qualitative interviews, in person pre- and post-surveys, observations, staff interviews, and a coordinated series of critical case studies.
LTC: Turning Outward
The first iteration of LTC was a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project where ALA partnered with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation to explore and develop the “Turning Outward” approach in public libraries. This work demonstrated a path for investing in libraries as public service organizations with a focus on civic engagement. Evaluation activities were aligned with the project’s four key areas: 1) intensive work of the Public Innovators Cohort, which consisted of library leaders and community partners from ten sites nationwide; 2) scalable learning across the library field using LTC resources and tools; 3) ALA staff and member leader training; and 4) a communications campaign that built support, visibility, and buy-in for the work of libraries as agents of community innovation and change.
Knology’s Research and Evaluation Team
Rebecca Joy Norlander, Phd (Researcher / Evaluator) joined Knology (then New Knowledge Organization Ltd.) in 2014 and has been leading research and evaluation on LTC since the first iteration of the project. Her doctorate in Human Science includes certification in International Conflict Resolution and Building a Sustainable World, and a specialization in Transformative Social Change. Rebecca has also collaborated with ALA PPO to provide research and evaluation for a range of other library initiatives. These include the National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA), New Americans Library Project, Thinking Money / Thinking Money for Kids, Media Literacy @Your Library, Media Literacy Education in Libraries for Adult Audiences, and Skills for 21st Century Librarians.
Melina Sherman, PhD (Researcher / Evaluator) is a communication scholar and researcher at Knology. Her research interests center on the relationship between health, culture, and media. She is also interested in how cultural institutions, like libraries, serve as vehicles for social change. Melina’s work has appeared in a number of communication and social science journals, including Public Culture, Communication, Culture & Critique, and the International Journal of Communication. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California and received her postdoctoral training from the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University.
Joanna Laursen Brucker, EdM (Chief Operating Officer / Project Manager) is a facilitator and educator focused on transforming research to practice. Since joining in 2015, Joanna has worked with Knology’s partners to apply research to strategic design, curricula, and program implementation. She is particularly interested in how formal and informal education can be used for cultural change. Joanna holds an EdM in international education policy from Harvard University and has managed research and evaluation projects in collaboration with ALA PPO including National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA), New Americans Library Project, Thinking Money / Thinking Money for Kids, and Skills for 21st Century Librarians.