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Community engagement

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.

Want to share your library’s community success stories?

Engaged Libraries social media campaign

We are bringing voices together with #EngagedLibraries, a new social media campaign that invites library workers to share ideas, highlight impactful programs and partnerships, and celebrate breakthroughs and the people who make them happen. Help us grow the conversation by posting today and year-round.

Share your story

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 local discussions on difficult local or national issues

Community engagement starts with listening.

Icon: Online survey

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:

Icon: Bullhorn

Marketing

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Event promotion

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Partnerships

Many different library staff support community engagement efforts.

Icon: Library worker

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 engagement talks

These 10–15-minute presentations explore how to facilitate local conversations, partner for impact, and create valuable community programming.

Video: Courageous Community Conversations for Race and Social Justice

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.”

Video: Recovery and the Library: An Opioid Epidemic Response

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.

Video: School Partnerships with Impact: Changing Lives at Scale

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.

Video: The Library as Town Square

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.

Video: The Banksy Effect: A Community Engagement Story

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, Canada)—discuss the outreach projects that earned them the OCLC Community Engagement Award.

Photo: Kid-owned business showcased by Orange County

Orange County Library System

Photo: Project BRIDGE at Jackson District Library

Jackson District Library

Photo: "Welcome Baby" package from Edmonton Public

Edmonton Public Library

Recent insights and perspectives by and for libraries

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.

Photo: Yolo County Library ESL program participants

Building community through cultural humility

Learn how Pima County Library is taking pertinent programming directly to the local Native communities they serve.

Photo: Pima County Public Library Library Night Out in Old Pascua program

From the OCLC Next  blog

Let's talk race: The power of conversations

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.

Photo illustation: Discussions on race and social justice

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