Libraries Foster Community Conversations
How does change come about? Often, through conversations. Libraries facilitate immense change as centers where conversations take place. An essential aspect of libraries is that people see them as safe, neutral, and open meeting spaces. In other words, just the environment needed to foster healthy and successful conversations about community issues. Libraries are embracing this and are hosting and facilitating community conversations.
The pandemic has been an especially stressful time for productive community conversations. Not only are people combating misinformation, confusion, and fear, meeting for in-person conversations has become a risky activity. This creates even more division among community members and prevents healthy discussion of community problems.
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Libraries are a possible resource for addressing community issues and can help facilitate or host community conversations. Community conversations during the COVID-19 pandemic are still possible through virtual platforms. Many libraries are encouraging communities to come together through varying platforms and talk in a responsible way despite pandemic isolation.
Resources for Hosting Productive Discussions
Becoming community leaders happens naturally given the reputation that libraries have as community hubs, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need additional resources and training to be optimally effective at their role. The American Library Association (ALA) understands the importance of libraries in their communities and wants to provide as much help as possible towards strengthening libraries in their mission to bring about positive change. As a result, they created a six-session webinar that focuses exclusively on how libraries can foster an environment for conversation and serve their communities.
The goal of ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) initiative is to create libraries that are well-connected to their communities and engaged with local agencies, non-profits, corporations, and others. The first session covers hosting and leading conversations while each of the following webinars touches on a variety of other topics related to conversations. These sessions include “Theming and Using Public Knowledge,” “Hosting and Using Innovative Spaces,” “Partner Selection and Managing Relationships,” “Calibrating Community Conditions,” and the “Sweet Spot of Public Life.”
Each webinar is hosted by certified coaches from a variety of backgrounds and is completely free to watch. Through these sessions, ALA hopes that libraries will gain the skills and confidence to become effective facilitators
Community Conversations During a Pandemic
The STAR Library Network is one example of an organization that is empowering libraries to build new conversation facilitation skills. STAR released a list of recommendations for conducting a Virtual Community Dialogue. This included a guide that helps libraries and library staff create a flow for conversations as well as tips for libraries as conversation hosts. Important steps to this process include developing relationships and building a strong network in communities, giving groups opportunities to get to know each other beforehand, though, for example, social media groups or an online document, and creating follow-up action items.
Learning how to create and facilitate these virtual environments can bring communities together and position libraries as leaders capable of serving the population in ways that will affect many.
Libraries Getting Involved
Many libraries host events for community members to come together virtually. These conversations center on pandemic-related issues and other community concerns.
The Erie County Public Library, for example, hosted a conversation titled “More than Books!” which was focused on bringing together stakeholders for input on the library’s strategy. These started taking place in the autumn of last year during one of the peak periods of the pandemic and were therefore held virtually. The virtual conversation allowed people to discuss what they envisioned for the community’s future and what role the library plays in achieving it. It also informed people about library resources and helped develop partnerships that would aid in future projects.
The Fulton County Library has similar goals with its virtual event, “Be Bold. Be Heard,” which centers around community input in creating the library’s next strategic plan. Events like these are great, especially in the era of the pandemic, because they remind people that their insights are still relevant and important. It provides a space where people can continue to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and their hopes.
Be Part of the Conversation
Libraries have a way of making people feel open to sharing their opinions. These community conversations are important whether they are held in-person or online. The ability to bring people together during difficult times is a big role to step into and libraries are well-equipped to take on the responsibility. Consider reaching out to your library about hosting or facilitating a community conversation around issues that you care about.