Last fall Common Knowledge helped launch the Libraries Lead the Way community engagement and facilitation skills training with 11 teams in northern California. As we complete year end reports, there is much to be celebrate. We’ve seen librarians engage new members of their community, build stronger relationships with local partners and develop confidence in facilitating meaningful conversations with their fellow staff members as well as community.

Through summative team interviews and a culminating survey, we’ve also had many opportunities for reflection. The core belief that led us into this work has been confirmed: As the role of libraries continues to evolve, community engagement and facilitation skills are increasingly vital.

Common Knowledge was invited to created Libraries Lead the Way (LLTW) to empower library staff and give them the skills needed to effectively engage their communities. The project-based training was developed in response to requests by libraries in the NorthNet and Pacific Library Partnership library systems. It is part of a larger movement in which libraries are more proactively engaging their communities to adapt their services to changing social networks, as well as digital networks.

“We were given a blueprint to effectively discuss hot button issues/topics within a community that does not alienate, allows the library to get anecdotal data and real-time feedback. Libraries Lead the Way provided a road map to show how the library can play a role in community building”

One of the training’s most unique and popular features was the evening community conversation. After spending an entire day talking about and practicing community engagement and facilitation skills with fellow librarians, participants were given the chance to apply what they had learned with local community members.

The evening community conversations helped reduce facilitation anxiety and gave participants a sense that they could do something similar on their own. “It’s not as difficult or scary as it seems,” said one participant in the training’s year end survey. “We learned that it really takes the hands-on experience,” said another librarian. Being able to participate in a real community conversation during the in-person portion of the training was consistently mentioned as LLTW’s most beneficial feature.

“…you can learn a lot by asking the community.”

“Community engagement is easier than I thought.”

Libraries Lead the Way proved to be a highly relevant and popular training. Both qualitative and quantitative feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Following the in-person trainings, the LSTA grant also allowed for limited follow-up coaching support from the team at Common Knowledge for participating libraries.

Members of both training cohorts also received a post-training newsletter and participated in a January 2017 winter webinar to share each team’s project progress and reflect on what they were learning. The end of project survey indicated that the most valued elements of the training were the evening community conversation, the training manual and the peer-to-peer exchange.

“…a  lot of progress was made on coming together as a community and working toward common goals.”

“I personally learned that this kind of outreach and participatory conversation is possible and I’m not totally sure I felt that way before.”

Download the Libraries Lead the Way report here.