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ACRL Libraries Transform Toolkit: A Framework for Community Engagement

A blueprint for community engagement

It would be easy to approach outreach and marketing as something that a library does in order to increase awareness of its services and resources. And those logistical elements certainly have their place within this toolkit and among the many resources listed here. But if we are keeping with the central focus of this taskforce and the spirit of the broader movement of which it is part, it is important to frame the work we are doing as a community building/engagement opportunity rather than a PR-based one.

According to the Urban Libraries Council libraries can take a series of leadership roles to further frame how they want to approach this work as leaders in raising awareness of issues, creating forums for sharing of ideas and discussion, bringing diverse groups together, and developing a shared vision.

A few definitions:

  • According to the Community Power website, community engagement is a process where an organization works to build lasting relationships in order to apply a collective vision that benefits the community. Community engagement is executed in concert with the community for relationship building
  • Marketing/outreach is a form of communication with the intent of inducing a behavioral change on a short or long term basis. Marketing and outreach are conducted in order for the organization to extend its reach

According to Alison Gilchrist community-based outreach relies on community networks to engage in formal and informal activities. In addition, she highlights the benefits of this model to both individuals and organizations, as well as the powerful effect of strong ties and social capital can have on related areas such as collective efficacy and referrals. It should be notes that communities and contexts will vary between different types of libraries, but we hope these methods are widely applicable.

Gliedt, Parker, and Lynes (Gliedt, T., Parker, P., & Lynes, J. (2010). Strategic partnerships: Community climate change partners and resilience to funding cuts. Researching the social economy, 201-222) outline three types of partnerships that can sustain this work:

  1. Strategic partnerships to coordinate branding, reaching a particular target audience, and provide platforms of communication
  2. Operational partnerships which deliver outreach or other program elements via volunteers or other appropriate means
  3. Collaborative partnerships which are actively involved in designing services and interventions

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Methods for engaging the community

Commonly utilized methods for engaging users invariably invoke methods such as focus groups, ethnographic studies, surveys, etc. But according to Allison Carr-Chellman, this is the basis of user-centered design where something is being done to the user, rather than involving the user in the creation of their own systems (or in this case their own outreach goals and activities).

Regardless of the methodology used, the emphasis here is on its application. Design thinking, customer journey mapping, ethnographic methods and observations, and even drawing sessions can all be utilized effectively during the three stages of your outreach program. The combination of methods and processes largely depends on your institutional resources, employee time, as well as the scope of your outreach program and what your goals are, so there is no single path to take:

  1. Determine what your community needs (for example don't make assumptions that just because students use cell phones they automatically know how to navigate the library's website)
  2. Develop an outreach campaign that resonates with them-if you are asking your community for input regarding what they would like the library to offer, it makes sense that they would also help you craft the message and medium through which they can receive this information. Create prototypes and pilots to test things out before you release a full-blown version and seek user feedback at all steps of the process
  3. At the end of the outreach campaign debrief on what worked well and what didn't and ways things can improve. Again, don't assume you know and incorporate the feedback you receive into your next iteration

Share your own community based practices