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MCLS scholarship recipient Pam Seabolt writes about her experience at the Harwood/ALA Public Innovators Lab

As a recipient of an MCLS scholarship, I attended The Harwood Institute/ALA Public Innovators Lab for Librarians workshop in October.  It was an intense 2 ½ days in Atlanta, GA!  We spent time in the workshop going over the concepts of “turning outward,” and how we can use our roles in our communities to be a voice for the community. We first need to understand our communities. We then need to make the conscious decision to turn outward to make intentional judgements and choices. The process of change in a community doesn’t happen all at once, but we, as librarians, can be the change agents in our communities.

Change begins by:

  • Being turned outward – focusing on our communities and not our conference rooms
  • Having a deep understanding of our communities – starting with people’s shared aspirations and knowing what matters to people
  • Developing the conditions necessary for change – starting where the community is, and not where we wish it was
  • Deciding on the right path – figuring out what course of action you can start with and starting with small successes
  • Making an agreement with yourself – what we value and how to stay true to that

(“How Change Happens” by Rich Harwood)

So, how do we do this? We already feel like we try to be the voice of the community. We offer unparalleled services. We are community centers of knowledge and programming. So what more can we do? The real question is, what should we be doing instead? We create long laundry lists of services and activities, but don’t really know what our communities want. We need to take the time to ask our communities what they aspire to. We need to just get out and start the conversation.

How am I going forward with the knowledge that I gained from the Public Innovators Lab? I am the Branch Manager of the Clarksville Branch of the Jeffersonville Township Public Library located in southern Indiana just across the river from Louisville, KY. This year, I facilitated some community conversations in the community and was unsure about how to go forward with presenting the information and where to go from there. I am going to work on compiling the information that I received, but I am also going to hold some more community conversations with the help of colleagues in our town’s government. I also would like to do “Ask” exercises, which are shortened versions of the community conversations, and which really get to the heart of what people would like to see in their communities. “Ask” exercises can be done at festivals and other community events where you have a shortened amount of time to work with, or can be done just by canvassing the community and speaking to people on the street. I would also like to work with other staff in my library to train on being Public Innovators.

The takeaway from the Public Innovators Lab was to just get going and start the conversation, whether it’s with staff in your institutions or by conversations in the community. Find partners and stakeholders in public knowledge, start being part of the conversations already happening, and hold your own conversations. Then take the knowledge and share it. The ripple effects will amaze you as you start wherever you are, go for little successes, and larger successes will come.