Magazine article American Libraries

Transforming Libraries ... Continued: ALA Leaders Extend Focus on Library Community Engagement

Magazine article American Libraries

Transforming Libraries ... Continued: ALA Leaders Extend Focus on Library Community Engagement

Article excerpt

When Maureen Sullivan takes over as ALA president in June, one thing that is certain to continue from Molly Raphael's presidency is the thematic focus on "Transforming Libraries."

"Since ALA leaders build on the work of their predecessors, it is particularly fortuitous that Maureen and I have been able to work closely together," Raphael said. "Our shared vision around community engagement and transforming libraries will move forward without a break."

Raphael added that the Association is uniquely positioned to contribute to efforts underway all over the country--indeed the world--to transform libraries into places that engage with the communities they serve.

During her time as ALA president, Raphael appointed what she describes as "a talented and diverse team" to work on her Empowering Voices, Transforming Communities initiative. "We have used approaches that help libraries identify the different populations of their communities, figure out how to engage with the varied groups to understand their priorities, adjust library services to serve those groups, and then motivate those communities to speak out about the value of the libraries," she said.

Transformation happens, she said, when libraries engage in new behaviors and develop programs to support the priorities and aspirations of those communities. "This is different from a needs-assessment approach," Raphael said. "It is based more on what communities' dreams are."

This means anything from changes in the physical structure of buildings to new services to accommodate changing technology to adapting the management and staffing of a library to better serve patrons, according to the Transforming Libraries website (

Over the past 18 months, the Association developed resources, presented programs and preconferences at various conferences, and offered web-based learning opportunities "to understand how we cantruly engage with our library communities to understand their priorities and aspirations," Raphael said. And it was clear the demand for such information was there. Hundreds of people attended conversations at the 201.2 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Dallas to better understand how their communities are changing and what libraries--and librarianship--need to do to respond (AL, Mar./Apr., p. 48-51).

At Midwinter, Rich Harwood, president and founder of the nonprofit Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, presented an approach to community engagement that involves libraries and other organizations turning outward, not inward. As he has traveled the country, he said, he hears the same message. …

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