Archive for the 'community building' Category

community relations

This month, I started my new job as Community Relations director at OCLC. I can’t tell you yet what that means, since I’ve been very busy doing my old job (like, writing grants and things like that). But I am very excited about the opportunity, and will share more in coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll ask you a question: If OCLC’s public purpose is to “advance librarians, libraries, and librarianship” – and that is my charge – where do you think we should start?

PLA unconference

Cross-posted at WebJunction – with many thanks to Jennifer Peterson.

It was a great honor to be invited to facilitate the first ever PLA Unconference. In true unconference form (less-ness), the participants built an intriguing schedule of sessions filled with engaging and inspirational conversations.

The unconference is a participant-driven, organic approach to conference programming. It’s education and networking all wrapped into one. It’s the chance to offer ideas. It’s the chance to lead a discussion. It’s the chance to network with other attendees interested in the same issues you are. (See Library Success Wiki and LIS Wiki for more examples of library focused unconferences).

In Philadelphia, after I gave a quick overview of the unconference format and guidelines, participants began by posting proposed descriptive titles on sticky notes. Then proposed session leads were given 30 seconds to pitch their session to the group. With some topics duplicated, participants clustered some of the proposed topics together and then all were given three votes each to pick the sessions they’d like to join. Based on these votes, we built the unconference agenda together.

Library Journal’s Josh Hadro provided excellent Storify coverage of the unconference, complete with images of our afternoon together. Session topics included:

  • Econtent Stuff
  • Successful Community Engagement
  • Genealogy in the Public Library
  • Future of Librarianship
  • Transmedia Storytelling
  • Tech Training

Participants attended two of the sessions and we wrapped up the unconference with some time for sharing back with the full group. When Sara Dallas, PLA 2012 programming chair asked the group if they recommend the unconference as a do-again event, the group answered with the affirmative. The format can be used in all sorts of settings, with staff or with your community, and I’m pleased to share the deck that I used to facilitate this event – if you’re planning your own event, feel free to use these. Thank you to the Global Libraries team at the Gates Foundation for sharing *their* decks with me, so that I could build this one. Thank you to the PLA programming committee, who worked together we had everything we needed for a successful session, and for supporting me in my role as facilitator. Thank you to John at ITI, who donated three copies of Michele Boule’s Mob Rule Learning (great resource for unconference planning). And a huge thank you to all the participants in Philly, who made this unconference a model for future PLA programs! I’d love to hear from you if you decide to do one of these, and how it turned out for you.

libraries & the national workforce

Following are a few remarks delivered this morning to kick off the finale’ of WebJunction’s Project Compass program, funded since 2010 by IMLS. There are great stories here about the impacts that libraries have on unemployed in their communities, and I thought those who could not be there might also like to hear them as well. I am so proud of the team that pulled this entire project together, and worked collaboratively with libraries across the U.S. to bring workforce development to the core of library service.

Good morning!

It’s my absolute pleasure to welcome you all to the Project Compass National Convening, where – over the next two days – we’ll celebrate and advance the work that public libraries do every day to develop our national workforce. I’d like to open our proceedings with a little trip around the county – and share with you a few stories from the project compass workshop participants we’ve met along the way.

We’ll start here on the east coast. Tom is a skilled professional in his mid-50s living in the CT/NYC job-market. He’s a husband and father of two, has bachelors and masters degrees, and impressive experience over the course of his career in technical instructional design. Tom loves his job as the Chief Information Officer for a local training company, who he’s been with for more than five years. But this is late 2010; the company has held on for as long as they can; Tom gets laid off, along with several colleagues.

Seven months later, on the advice of a friend, Tom visits his local library; he’s been steadily looking for work since his layoff, but can’t seem to get an interview. He starts to attend the library’s weekly job search seminars, joins a networking group led by a volunteer social worker, starts using the continuing education databases, learns how to research companies more thoroughly, and meets with an onsite career counselor regularly.

Over the course of several weeks, Tom begins to open up to the staff and other job-seekers in his networking group. Why isn’t he getting any interviews? Are his skills too specific? Is it age discrimination? And while his family is supportive, Tom shares that he’s also starting to feel the pressure to consider ANY job, just to bring home a paycheck. Library staff begin to understand that Tom’s self-esteem has really suffered; he’s under-valuing his own skills and expertise, and applying for jobs he’s over-qualified for. And that’s why he’s not getting the interviews!

Encouraged by the support he finds in the program, Tom starts to apply what he’s learning at the library. He reworks his resume and cover letter, joins a professional training and development association – and gets involved in a committee within the association. All this leads to further networking, and then to a new job opportunity – a contract position in an area hospital that’s implementing a new software system. But the software system isn’t just new to the hospital, it’s new to the industry. After multiple, rigorous interviews, Tom is offered a short-term contract. Now certified in the new technology, Tom’s working in a new industry that’s ripe with opportunity – and his new skills will easily transfer to other health care facilities, even if this contract ends.

Moving on to the mid-west, we find Alex, who’s 43. Right out of high school, Alex takes a job as an office assistant in a roofing company. Eventually, he works his way up to Office Manager, where he spends the next 13 years. But when the economy falters, and the company goes out of business, Alex’s income goes from $54k a year to unemployment insurance alone.

Like so many others, Alex has never prepared a resume, and doesn’t know how to begin searching for work in a new economy. Alex does have basic computer skills – he has an email account and knows how to search the Internet – but he spends his allotted internet time at the library searching a single job site – the one he’s most familiar with, to no avail.

One day, Alex asks library staff for help. Over time, they get to know each other better, and library staff show Alex new resources to improve his job search. But more than that, they listen.

Unexpectedly, and in the course of casual conversation, Alex mentions that he’s going to have to give up his car – the payments are too high, and he needs to trade down for a car that’s more affordable. The library staff have heard this sort of thing before, but Alex is more distressed than most. As it turns out, driving is his passion; Alex shares how he often just drives for hours with no destination, just because it’s something he loves to do.

This leads to a conversation about the possibility of a whole new career – what about driving for a living? But this didn’t just come out of the blue. The library’s ties with Illinois WorkNet had provided a list of careers that still had potential for new-comers, even in a difficult economy, and this was one of them. But when library staff mention this to Alex, they learn that he has already looked into the required training, but has written it off because he doesn’t have the money required to enroll. Ah, but the library staff also knows through their partnership with WorkNet that Alex might be eligible for a grant to complete the training! The phone calls begin …

The full application takes two months to complete, but Alex and the library staff work together through the whole process. Alex receives a grant for $4800 to complete his training at the College of Du Page. Several weeks later, the library receives a single text message from Alex that reads “I now bleed orange. Thank you.” Alex has accepted a full time job with Schneider National Trucking, driving one of those big orange trucks you often see along the highway. Now each of the library staff has a binder filled with unemployment support, tools and resources, and on the outside of each one is the phrase “I bleed orange” – its become a mantra for local library staff still supporting countless others.

And finally, let’s head west, where 45 year old Meg works at a well-established company she’s been in for 8 years. She’s put in a lot of overtime, and like Alex, seemed to be moving up. But then, with just one day’s notice, she too is laid off. And Meg has a mortgage she can’t expect to keep up with if she can’t find a new job soon.

In a panic, Meg goes to her local public library to look at job ads on the Internet. She learns that many of today’s openings require an online application too. She spends about half an hour working through the application for a promising position. When she’s almost done, she tries to save her work on a jump drive, but at the same time, hits a wrong key and wipes out the whole document. Frustrated, she gets up to leave.

But this is where Carol steps in; Carol’s the librarian on duty, finds out what the problem is and says, “That application form can’t be smarter than both of us!” She sits down with Meg and works through it to the end. While it’s being transmitted, Carol goes to the stacks and comes back with some books about interviewing. “I think you’re going to get that interview,” she says. “And here are some resources to help you get prepared.”

A week later, Meg comes back to the library. “You taught me something,” she tells Carol. “You showed me how not to give up. I did get that interview, and thanks to you, I also got the job.”

How many of you could relay, from your personal experience, or the experience of someone you know, a story much like these that I’ve shared with you today? (Almost all of you.)

Then you also know that these stories all illustrate that libraries are no longer about books, databases, or other content. Libraries and their staff offer the empathy, support, service, and space – where today’s job seekers find the expert networks and the community they need to be successful in their new endeavors. Whether it’s supporting people writing resumes and applying for jobs, or helping people launch their own businesses or grow new careers, libraries power economic recovery. And when the library does that for one American, and then another, and then another – we deliver and I do not say this lightly on the American promise of equal opportunity for all.

Let’s be honest: transforming individuals and communities in the midst of prolonged economic challenges has also required a transformation in some of our libraries. We’ve had to embrace an enormous shift in our collections and service models, and do so under incredible budget strain. And librarians, many of us, have been called on to move beyond the reasons that we originally came to this work, and focus on new and entirely unexpected community needs.

Over the next two days – the incredibly talented and passionately committed Project Compass team will take us through a schedule chock-full of celebration, support, and community for those of us actively engaged in this work.Change is hard! We need to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and get some support for moving forward.

Joining us are more than 220 public and state library colleagues from 45 states and the district of Columbia. Esteemed guests…

  • Susan Hildreth & Mary Chute from IMLS
  • Terri Bergman from the National Association of Workforce Boards
  • Jane Oates from the Department of Labor
  • Ron Carlee from the International City/County Management Association
  • futurist Garry Golden and author Marilyn Johnson

…will share their expertise and their encouragement for taking us even farther.

As you attend these sessions, I encourage you to reflect on your own path through the incredible transformations we are all now a part of. I can tell you that, personally, devising this project with the library community (especially Jennifer at North Carolina and Kevin at IMLS), and then following it through to implementation across the nation, has been one of the highlights of my entire career. You, the library staff and partners we’ve worked with, and the patrons you’ve served, inspire me daily with your courage, tenacity, and hope.

my talk at TEDx Rainier

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at a local TEDx event – TEDxRainier. TEDx is a locally produced event that licenses the TED name and format. My talk was one of thirty – our event lasted a full day – and I spoke about how library services are shifting and evolving to meet new community needs; my hope was to inspire the audience to think with me, and with our colleagues in the library field, how libraries might continue to evolve in the 21st Century.

TEDx events are an *excellent* venue for raising awareness about libraries with the public; TEDx audiences are discerning in that they are likely already familiar with and have an interest in “ideas worth spreading”. My guess is that they come to the event to be inspired, build local networks, and start making connections and collaborations. I’ve found both my TEDx audiences very interested in how they can support and work with libraries. I still keep in touch with the many people I’ve met as a result, and still have a number of people to follow up with since this last one. I highly recommend working with local organizers to produce or speak at one of these in your area, if you haven’t already!

As a speaker at this event, I was so well supported. My speech coach was Elizabeth Coppinger and my designer was Kolin Pope. Each met with me several times to tighten up my content and the slides that accompanied. Dale Musselman, Kendra Morgan, and the volunteer staff at TEDx Rainier all watched rehearsals (one, or more!). It felt a bit like Phil Klein was my own personal cheerleader (though I know he was doing this for everyone) and the audience was both generous and genuine. My friends and mentors helped me develop and clarify my message all along the way. Huge thanks go to Marilyn Mason, Mike Crandall, Deborah Jacobs, Brian Bannon, Rolf Hapel, Marie Boleman, and the communications team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their input and support throughout. I hope I’m not forgetting anyone.

Many of you know the story about me and my wardrobe malfunction at the last TEDx talk I did (them: no black! me: but that’s all i brought!). This time, the only thing that I wished I could change was the huge ball of cotton that suddenly appeared in my mouth about mid-way through my talk. Too bad that mic wasn’t connected to a camel-pack. 🙂

If you’d like to give me feedback on this talk – please visit my online survey – thank you!!

pick a little, talk a little

Last month I was in Dodge City, Kansas doing a talk for the southwest Kansas library system. I was so impressed with the library there because it was so welcoming and usable. A large room off to the side of the reference books and stacks even offered comfortable couches and chairs facing a big flat screen TV, presumably for weekly screenings of DWTS (although while I was there, I only saw CNN). The library community there was just as friendly. I had a great time walking through the stories and experiences of many of the librarians that I spoke with for the Inside, Outside, and Online project. I left feeling re-inspired by the unique ways they were meeting local community needs.

The story that especially stuck with me was the librarian who decided to take story-time to the park when she realized that spanish-speaking mothers were meeting there with their children every week. They didn’t originally feel comfortable with the library, but she’s built up a rapport with them over time, and now they come to the library frequently – though they still do story-time in the park!

A few weeks later, I was in Santa Fe doing a short update on OCLC and WebJunction for the state librarians at COSLA’s fall meeting. The thing that really struck me during this meeting was how far along we are now with our workforce development services. So many of the state librarians were talking about how these services had established real, lasting partnerships with other statewide agencies that they didn’t have before. The recession has really given us the opportunity to work differently, collaborate more effectively, at the state level, and for that I am grateful.

And then the following week, I attended the “state library capacity building” (#buildSLA) meeting at  the Gates Foundation and had a wonderful time serving as a table facilitator during the open discussions. I met a lot of new people from state libraries (since two people were invited from each, and I don’t often get to meet with library deputies or development directors). I walked away from this meeting with an even stronger sense that all libraries, at every level, need to seriously consider and articulate the future of libraries so that we can begin acting on the funding and governance changes that need to occur in order to get us there. The recession and its impact on libraries has brought new opportunities for partnerships and “doing things differently” but I don’t think it’s enough. We need to do more.

In my view, the future of libraries depends on community engagement. User-centered design and implementation of the library and all its services. There is also a thread on learning that can go from cradle to grave, be present for all of life’s “breaking points” (as Claudia Lux calls them), but there’s something about the term “lifelong learning” that gives me pause. Anyway, for two years now, I’ve been thinking about “community engagement” as the center-piece of effective library practice. Early this fall the suggestion came to me that “the future of libraries” was the most pressing topic for public libraries in the US. Over the travels of my last several months, consideration of the future of libraries, and whether or not community engagement techniques can help us prototype the library of the future, has become top of mind for me.

I touch on this a bit in my TEDxRainier talk on Saturday. I’ll post the script and slides here for anyone who is interested; of course, the video will be available eventually for those who don’t make it to the big day (or the live stream online).

Do you know of any libraries that are prototyping their future facilities, services, and content (incl. formats) directly with their users? What techniques are they using? Any results yet? I’d like to build an aggregate prototype of all the great stories we come up with. And with that I’ll say good night. If I keep picking and talking, I might find myself writing another book.

leave of absence

I’ve been gearing up for a new baby – and will be on maternity leave through early March 2011. You’ll still find shorter updates on twitter, flickr, and facebook until I’m back to more regular blogging.

My most recent presentation (and likely the last for a little while!) at PNLA / WLA this summer is now on sharepoint – enjoy!

book review #5

I searched for my book title in WorldCat today and learned Gwen M Gregory reviewed my book in Information Today back in October. However did I miss that!? Here’s an excerpt:

[Hill’s] writing and her professional activities reflect her passion for the social and community aspects of libraries. While she is sophisticated in her knowledge of technology, she always emphasizes that it is a means to an end. It isn’t the be-all and end-all of libraries, and we shouldn’t get stuck there. “[L]ibrary staff seemed more concerned with fixing their print- ers and arguing about why users didn’t find us as relevant as Google than they were with imagining the incredible op- portunity before us: to lead and facilitate the content creation and discourse of our communities and constituents,” she writes.


So what do we get from all this? Libraries are a valuable social commodity and provide social links. If we think we are just for sitting quietly and reading books, we will cease to exist before too long. If we jump into the community mix, get out there, and show off what we do, our communities will benefit and will appreciate our services. Best of all, we will be doing something that really matters.

Hill makes a great case for an expanded role for librarians. We can build social capital within our communities and grow to become an even more important part of the social network. This goes for all types of libraries. This book will inspire you to think hard about the role that your library now plays and where it may stand in a few years.

Thank you, Gwen. I appreciate your full synopsis of the work in your review. What took me a while to get down under a few hundred pages, you’ve summed up perfectly in just one! I hope that even as the work gets “dated” from the years we spent in the rush of user-generated content, it will still be relevant to library staff thinking about how we can evolve into new relevance with our users.

Building Collaboration, Participation, and Community in Libraries.

“Alliance Library System and TAP Information Services Announce Trendy Topics  2010:  Social Networking for Libraries! The first conference on Social Software for Libraries is scheduled for Tuesday, February 9.  Meredith Farkas of Norwich University and columnist for American Libraries, will be the opening keynote speaker at 11:00 A.M. Eastern Time, 10:00 Central, 9:00 Mountain, and 8:00 Pacific.  She will address “Building Collaboration, Participation, and Community in Libraries.”  Farkas will talk about how social software is opening up new opportunities for reaching out to patrons, providing library services, and transforming our websites.”

Register at
Registration for librarians for the one day conference is $40; for students $30; and for groups $100.
For more information on these workshops please contact Lori Bell at ALS, or Tom Peters at TAP Information Services at

Alliance Library System is one of nine regional library systems in Illinois serving 260 libraries of all types in a 14,000 square mile area. TAP Information Services ( helps organizations innovate.

My talk at TEDx

If you read It’s All Good, I apologize for the cross-posting, but I wanted to share this with LBC readers as well.

I have been shy about publishing this, but not for the reasons you might think. Last October I had the huge pleasure of speaking at TEDx Columbus, a local TED event organized by local folk. I was invited, at least one of the reasons, because I work at OCLC and they were interested in highlighting ideas and work from local organizations. This was my first time talking with a non-library audience about some of these ideas and I had a great time.

You can decide for yourself how you think it went – the whole 18 minutes are posted here. But the reason why I have been shy about showing it has less to do with the content of my actual speech and so I’ll just come clean…
I had this very cute little skirt and top to wear for my speech. When I arrived the day before, the organizers shared that I should not wear black. Seriously? I almost died. And so here I am on a TEDx video wearing boring pants and a sweater. (And now you know real the extent of my vanity!)

If you have a chance to review, I would love to have your feedback. This experience definitely drove home for me that we need to be out in the communities we serve talking about our work (and not just talking back and forth to each other). I hope to have more opportunities to talk to non-library audiences … this was such a good time. Note to self: always pack a cute color dress, just in case!

building community for the unemployed

Cheryl Napsha is a librarian after my own heart. I met her online while doing research for the LBC project and her words are the opening epigraph. And although it’s not the only reason I think of her as a kindred spirit, you can read her nice comments about the book on my reviews page.

I heard from Cheryl a few times in the last few months via email as my blog has been on hiatus (if you’re wondering why the hiatus: in part because I didn’t retain my clarity of purpose here after the book was published and in part because I was spending more time than usual worky-working) and each time she planted a new seed about the connection between community librarianship and service to the unemployed. In her most recent email, she shares some of the things she’s working on in her Michigan library:

We’re in Michigan, so while our ‘official’ unemployment is over 15%, our actual is well over 22%. Which means about 1 in 5 people who come to the library are desperately seeking work or social services.
We’ve done some things to respond, like: increasing the number of free computer classes (basic, Office applications, etc.); added a job seeker’s lab for 1-1 help in writing resumes, filing for unemployment, or anything even loosely related to jobs; and increased our 1-1 computer instruction. We’ve also offered lots of programming, including a 4-part ‘boot camp.’ We’re doing a lot more cultural and social programming, including concerts and family-oriented programming. All that is pretty normal. One of the unusual things we did was that, when we were faced with a 12% budget cutback last June, we INCREASED our hours by 10 weekly!!! So that was exciting.

I’m thinking there must be a more proactive solution, a way that the library could develop partnerships with social service or for-profit entities to help those in need. For instance, could we develop a partnership with a cosmetology school to offer free haircuts/makeovers at the library? Could we somehow create a job fair here? What about regular weekly sessions to practice interview people?

I’m thinking it’s way past time for information/referral for the public library, and that we should take advantage of this opportunity to really meet people where they need us.

Can you think of anyone I could connect with who’s on the same path?

Cheryl’s comments made me think of a project we’ve just started at WebJunction called Project Compass: libraries providing direction in tough times. This project is facilitating conversations and interactions for state library administrators around library services to the unemployed. We’re already learning a lot through this work, but are really looking forward to our five regional summits this spring, where we’ll raise concerns and jointly strategize about how to ensure libraries are making the most of scarce resources by sharing and in some cases even working together. As part of the compass project, WebJunction is also having a webinar on 1/28 that will highlight and facilitate more conversation about what’s happening in local libraries. If your library is struggling with unemployment issues, or has approached challenges of the last year in ways that you can share with others, please join us on Thursday. You can register to attend from the WebJunction homepage at I’ll be there, and hope to learn from you all.

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