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Turning outward at ILF District Conferences

Emily Bunyan, Michelle Bradley and Randy Dykhuis

Emily Bunyan, Michelle Bradley and Randy Dykhuis

MCLS is spreading the word about the importance of community engagement. Executive Director Randy Dykhuis, Knox County, Indiana Public Library Director Emily Bunyan, and MCLS Community Engagement Librarian Michelle Bradley made their way around the state of Indiana this spring, presenting on “Turning Outward for Deep Community Engagement.”  They went to Richmond, Williamsport, Kendallville, New Harmony and Carmel discussing how they have used the “Libraries Transforming Communities”  initiative at ALA, based on the work of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, to engage more deeply with their communities.

In 2014, the Knox County Public Library in Vincennes, Indiana was one of 10 public libraries in the nation awarded the “Libraries Transforming Communities Public Innovators Cohort Grant.” The Public Innovators Cohort is grounded in the Harwood Institute’s approach of “turning outward,” which emphasizes shifting the institutional and professional orientation of libraries and librarians from internal to external. The grant enabled the Knox County Public Library to develop and implement a plan for community engagement. Their work has led to many actionable items, including partnering with a local art gallery to provide a tactile art exhibit to low vision patrons, building community consensus on their Carnegie renovation color choices, and helping to meet food insecurity through community gardens and food drives.

In 2014, MCLS also used the tools provided by the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation to create more meaningful engagement with its members and the library community in its two state region. MCLS has used community conversations, a central component of the Harwood process, as a means to open up to the aspirations of the library communities in Indiana and Michigan. This work has led to new ways of thinking about professional development delivery, opened up avenues to share information with other library agencies, and created new opportunities for members to connect with one another.

The Harwood Institute is a nonprofit agency that helps people and organizations address community challenges, improve their own effectiveness, and do their work in a way that makes communities stronger. They have developed a model and methodology for civic engagement and libraries of all sizes have begun using this approach to create meaningful engagement with their local communities.

The ILF district conference sessions included a discussion of how these tools were used by both the Knox County Public Library to engage with their community and by MCLS to engage with the library community. Results of the Indiana Library Community Conversations held in December 2014 around the state were shared and discussed in these sessions as well.