Turning Outward

On Friday, we just concluded the third of three Harwood Innovation Labs, bringing to Texas a model for community engagement that has been used with dozens of organizations of all types in communities large and small across the U.S. In all, nearly 300 public and academic librarians from across Texas attended these three three-day sessions. I had attended the first two days of the Lab in Arlington two weeks ago but had to leave for day three. I was so intrigued with the content and to see how it wrapped up and the reaction of the participants, I returned on Friday for day 3 of the Lab in Houston.

In offering the Harwood Labs to the statewide library community, we hoped to stimulate new ways of thinking about how we approach our work in providing library services to our communities. The Harwood model focuses on the concept of “turning outward,” in other words, spending more time focused on how we can make our libraries more vital to the individuals and communities we serve. The idea is tied to developing a deeper understanding of the stages of development of communities and the individual and collective aspirations of persons in our communities.

It is a more difficult concept to grasp than it appears at first glance. We are deeply invested in analyzing our programs, focused on how many people walk through the door, how many times the services we offer are used, in conversation with staff and boards about the new ideas we have or how to sustain the funding we need to survive. Compared to those considerations, we tend to spend less time in dialogue with the community about whether the services we offer are in alignment with their hopes and aspirations for the type of place they want to live in.

The good news is that this model is not highly resource-intensive. It doesn’t take additional equipment or staff or supplies. It requires, however, that we begin to shift—in large and small ways—our thinking toward a more outward focus. I will be considering how we at the State Library can apply that thinking to both our direct services to the public as well as the services we provide to libraries, archives, and local governments across the state.

We hope that as the nearly 300 participants in the Harwood Labs return to their libraries to apply this model, we hear about their successes. In this way we will develop a set of best-practice examples of how to make our library services more outward turning.

See Richard Harwood’s great blog post about spending time with Texas libraries and the importance of libraries on the Harwood site: http://www.theharwoodinstitute.org/2015/05/libraries-protectors-of-the-common-good/

And many thanks to our Community Engagement Administrator, Jennifer Peters for her hard work in organizing the Harwood Labs in Texas with support from many others in the Library Development and Networking division. And great thanks as well to Cheryl, Carlton, David, and Richard for your outstanding presentations over the last three weeks.

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