Build connections, grow relationships, and increase your impact
Today’s engaged library workers inspire their communities and each other in countless ways. Whether sharing successful ideas with colleagues or creating community events, outreach activities, and partnerships, you make a difference. With OCLC programs, research, and services, you can spotlight the work you do for libraries everywhere—not just across town, but around the world.
What is community engagement?
It means different things to different libraries, but most agree that it’s about interacting, connecting, and communicating.
“[It's] using our resources to connect with and meet the needs of people of our county of all ages. [And also using] our ability to work with other agencies to reach all demographics, assess the wants and needs of those being served, and create a plan of engagement to truly achieve a positive outcome by forming a network of services all working together.”
—US public library
How do libraries engage in communities and on campuses?
80% plan or participate in community-focused events
77% partner with local organizations (even more so for publics)
49% collaborate with local leaders to solve problems
31% support or lead discussions on difficult local or national issues
Community engagement starts with listening.
82% of libraries assess community needs by conducting surveys.
44% have an advisory group
32% survey non-library users
23% hold public meetings
Library staff dedicated to community engagement are busy—really busy.
Most focus on creating outreach and programming for the campus or community.
They also work on:
Many different library staff support community engagement efforts.
41% don’t have a dedicated staff position, but wish they did
“Community engagement is vital to the success of a library and enrichment of the community. Community engagement is bringing together all parties to provide accurate information, needed resources, and a sense of belonging.”
—US academic library
About the above survey results: OCLC conducted an online study November 5-19, 2020, with a sample of 223 U.S. public and academic libraries. Results are +/- 6% at the 95% confidence level.
Get energized with community
These 10–15-minute presentations explore how to facilitate local conversations, partner for impact, and create valuable community programming.
Courageous Community Conversations for Race and Social Justice
Randy Heath, Manager, Richland Library Edgewood, explains his library’s response to a local crisis around race and social justice, including the launch of a social awareness task force geared toward encouraging and supporting courageous community conversations.
Tips for courageous conversations
Make the library a safe space to talk openly.
Social justice conversations are hard. Train teams to deal with discomfort.
Use “I” statements. Respond with, “Tell me more.”
Recovery and the Library: An Opioid Epidemic Response
The opioid epidemic is ravaging many US communities and libraries are on the front lines. K.C. Williams, Director, Blount County Public Library, shares how her library is working to address the opioid crisis by partnering with a local Recovery Court to provide a critical life skills curriculum.
Tips to take action on the opioid epidemic
Build in time for staff to connect with participants and create comfort with library spaces.
Have nervous participants interview library staff to break the ice.
Partnerships, relationships, and goal setting are as important as skills training.
School Partnerships with Impact: Changing Lives at Scale
A library card can change a child’s life. When schools and libraries partner, the impact is enormous. Learn how the Chesapeake Public Library approached a large-scale school partnership to provide electronic library cards to 40,000+ students.
Tips for library card school partnership success
If you can’t go fine-free: raise limits, don’t connect kids to family fines, and give chances to wipe the slate clean.
There will probably be far fewer unreturned items than you imagine.
Bad press from fine policies outweighs what you might make in dollars.
The Library as Town Square
Anythink Libraries has adopted the concept of the library as town square in all aspects of library operations. Anythink Director Pam Sandlian Smith shares how her team encourages community conversations through gatherings designed to support personal connections.
Tips to make a small idea reap big rewards
A great idea doesn’t have to be complex—add elements to enhance a simple experience.
Diversity can mean a lot of things. Appeal to different people differently.
Connect with people’s emotions and identities, and you’ll reach them on a deeper level.
The Banksy Effect: A Community Engagement Story
Faith Brautigam, Director, Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, shares what her team learned when an unexpected art exhibit (yes, it was really a Banksy!) helped the library bring the community together, build partnerships, and elevate its status with key stakeholders.
Tips to inspire connections
Explore new ways to encourage difficult conversations.
Meet community needs—from making quilts to civic gatherings, nothing is out of bounds.
Use the results from one project to inform the next and look for connections between groups.
Find out how three award winners connect with their communities
Three libraries—Orange County Library System (Florida), Jackson District Library (Michigan), and Edmonton Public Library (Alberta,
Recent insights and perspectives by and
Creating new ESL programs using #EngagedLibrary principles
Read about three important steps Yolo County Library used to help ensure the success of their new ESL programs: listen, partner, and follow-through.
Building community through cultural humility
Learn how Pima County Library is taking pertinent programming directly to the local Native communities they serve.
From the OCLC Next blog
Randy Dantrell Heath, Manager of Richland Library Edgewood, describes his library's simple but powerful set of programs that have facilitated more than 90 discussions with 4,000+ community members on a variety of topics related to race, social justice, and inequality.
03 February 2022
In this webinar, learn strategies for building more digitally inclusive communities including Digital Navigators and collaborations with partners to circulate hotspots and laptops.
22 February 2022
Staff from the Salt Lake City Public Library share how they built picture book-based kits, offering practical and positive ways to talk to children about race.
18 March 2021
A panel discussion with three passionate library leaders
- Time: 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time, North America [UTC -4]
This event has passed. View the archive.
11 May 2021
Sustainable development and libraries: Global goals, collective action
- Time: 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time, North America [UTC -4]
This event has passed. View the archive.