IMLS Grant – Community Engagement: Defining Public Libraries’ Role in the Community

In December 2012, OPL received an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant to design a two-year project that would help public libraries clearly define and expand their role in the communities they serve. OPL used the grant to facilitate community engagement by bringing people together in a trusted, neutral institution to share learning experiences.

As part of the grant project, 16 OPL staff members were selected to become community conversation facilitators. Over 18 months, these individuals learned basic facilitation techniques, project management skills, and how to use community assessment information. The group developed into a high-functioning team and learned a lot about the wants, needs, and hopes of Omaha-area residents in the process.

The grant project progressed through a series of facilitated public conversations which advanced in focus from creating a relationship or connection, to problem solving, and finally into creating and innovating. These conversations resulted in a set of community engagement practices and tools. OPL has adopted these community engagement lessons as a new standard, and has expanded the library’s role in the community. Staff and participating community organizations have learned the tremendous impact of facilitated meetings, and facilitators are often a welcomed addition to any meeting.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity this grant afforded,” said grant coordinator Theresa Jehlik. “OPL is stronger for it, and we believe that stronger libraries help to build stronger communities.”

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