Episode 201: Community Engagement

Community Engagement - Maps of teams and workflowsEpisode 201 Season Two
Community Engagement

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Contents of this page:

  • Intro
  • Background
  • Specific Library Examples
  • Books We are Reading
  • Conclusion
  • Other Resources



Welcome back to Season Two of Linking Our Libraries podcast!! We are excited to be back, sharing information and ideas for all types of libraries.

We are from Central Minnesota Libraries Exchange, and our mission is to support libraries. That means we are here to help libraries and library people to find information they need, to build skills, and to share ideas about all the things that make our profession great!

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This week we are talking about Community Engagement. This is an extremely important area for libraries, as making connections with your community is at the heat of all your service.

You need to define you community, and to really know who is there. It’s not enough to just have some ideas – do some research.

  • In a public library, your community is everyone in your district or taxing area; and that is a community that changes more frequently than you might guess, so you need to keep checking on that.
  • In a school library, your community is of course the students, but it also includes administrators and staff in the school, parents, and even members of your town or county who have a stake in good libraries and good schools.
  • An academic library has a community of students, and again the wider community of profs, staff, alums, and maybe members of your town if they also have access to your material.
  • Hospitals serve doctors and nurses, but also patients, researchers, and other people who may need to use your specialized collections.
  • Law libraries serve lawyers, court staff, people who are representing themselves, students, and more.

“Community” really varies depending on your individual library’s mission; so be sure you know who they are!


The Urban Libraries Council (ULC) report on Civic Engagement: Stepping Up to the Civic Engagement Challenge (Jan 2012) seeks to rally libraries to become known as leaders of community engagement, to grab that “missed opportunity for libraries, local governments, civic groups, and the people they serve.” The report cites several case studies of libraries leading the way around these five roles:

  • Civic Educator—raising awareness of civics, civic engagement, and civic responsibility
  • Conversation Starter—identifying challenging community issues, creating forums for sharing opinions, and developing action strategies
  • Community Bridge—bringing diverse people, including local government officials, and organizations with different perspectives together to build stronger communities
  • Visionary—leading efforts to develop a broad and inclusive community vision
  • Center for Democracy in Action—walking, talking, thinking, and acting as the place where democracy, civic engagement, and public discourse happen

Libraries can be such important parts of their communities they serve! And too often, nobody knows to ask us for the fantastic resources we can provide – so part of your job is to speak up and to get involved by offering your services and your time to make these connections! If you are shy about this, know: Nobody EVER turns down free help in making a community better – they will be THRILLED to have you there!


Some specific library examples

  • The National Security Archive

From researcher Joel Blanco there is some great work looking at the impart a library or archive  can have on a community, through research at the The National Security Archive.

The National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute founded in 1985 by journalists and scholars (see the Archive’s history here). The Archive houses and makes available declassified US government records, mostly obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“The work of the National Security Archive goes beyond collecting and disseminating declassified records, and this is the area I would like to emphasize, particularly because it underscores the role of archives in society. In other words, archives are more than repositories of historical documents; they are active players in important social issues such as accountability, transparency and human rights. The National Security Archive has been an active advocate of open government in the United States and abroad. Nationally, the NSA has participated in congressional hearings and has filed Freedom of Information lawsuits against the US government. Internationally, the NSA is part of freedominfo.org, a global network of pro-open government advocacy groups.

The National Security Archive has been an active player in Latin America, particularly in the ongoing efforts to achieve accountability with regard to the traumatic legacy of authoritarianism and civil wars that affected most of the region from the 1960s to the 1990s. The Archive has assisted most of the region’s truth commissions, providing documents from their holdings and assisting with the request of documents from US government agencies. The organization also provided technological assistance to the Documentation Center and Archive for the Defense of Human Rights, a division of the Justice Department in Paraguay, which is the custodian of the Archive of Terror. The organization has collaborated with the Historical Archives of the Guatemalan National Police, discovered in July 2005. The Archive has also provided documents and analysis to criminal investigations of human rights abuses, and its staff has served as expert witnesses at a number of trials. This includes the trial of Alberto Fujimori in Peru and trials in Argentina. The work of the National Security Archive in Latin America was the focus of the research for my doctoral dissertation, entitled Archives as Agents of Accountability and Justice: An Examination of the National Security Archive in the Context of Transitional Justice in Latin America (University of Pittsburgh, 2012). I used the NSA as a case study to analyze the impact of archives in transitional justice mechanisms in Latin America. This included the work of the NSA in Guatemala.

While most of my data was from court decision documents, news and reports, I was able to identify and study declassified U.S. document records housed at the National Security Archive. I selected documents from the Electronic Briefing Books and the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA). Declassified documents about Guatemala that I studied are part of the DNSA’s collection titled “Death Squads, Guerrilla War, Covert Operations, and Genocide: Guatemala and the United States, 1954-1999.” This collection of over 2,000 declassified documents describes the political developments during that period, including evidence about US policy in Guatemala and its assistance to the counterinsurgency campaign against the guerrilla groups during the civil war. The collection is also part of the Guatemala Documentation Project, a NSA initiative directed by Kate Doyle, which began requesting the declassification of documents between 1994 and 1995.”

More info on other projects: https://www.newtactics.org/conversation/archiving-human-rights-advocacy-justice-and-memory Archiving Human Rights for Advocacy, Justice and Memory


“A research grant from the Office of the Vice-President of Research at the University of South Carolina made possible a phenomenological study of refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), living in two communities in the United States, concerning their information needs and information-seeking behavior.

A successful coup in 2013 plunged the country into extreme violence and resulted in massive internal and external displacement of more than a fifth of its population.

Due to the extreme poverty and underdevelopment of the country, CAR refugees arriving in the United States are one of the most disadvantaged refugee groups the United States has seen. The majority arrive speaking only Sango and have little education or work history outside of subsistence farming. CAR refugee groups also have high numbers of single mothers arriving with multiple children who often have major health concerns. Because they are at such a great disadvantage, understanding their information-seeking behavior, the exact nature of their information needs, and the extent to which these needs are currently being met is vital to their successful resettlement.

The interview instrument consisted of 31 questions covering basic demographics, information practices, extent of support networks, and perceptions of information needs and challenges in the United States. What emerged from the interviews was both inspiring and heartbreaking. Their resilience, fortitude, and often sense of humor in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles was truly astounding.

While it is not possible to present all the results from the study here, one thing that became very obvious was that libraries have a long way to go in reaching this, and similar, populations. Only 3 of the 39 interviewees mentioned a local (public or academic) library at all.

For one man, the library was a place to go to take English classes, for another it was where he used the Internet, and for the last it was where his daughter would use the Internet and occasionally find information for him. More research, collaboration with social service agencies, and outreach are essential to understanding the information needs of refugees and how libraries can help them meet these needs.”



“Every summer when school ends, millions of kids and teens are at risk of going hungry because they no longer have access to the free or reduced-price meals they received when they were in school. The USDA has created the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)(link is external) to cover this summer meal gap. However, SFSP is one of the most underutilized government programs, with only about 16 percent of eligible kids participating. This is why the USDA is reaching out to libraries and museums.

Libraries and museums can help ensure that kids & teens receive the nutritious meals they need during summer when school is out.

When school lets out for summer, millions of children lose access to free or reduced price school breakfast and lunch and are at risk of malnutrition, hunger, and learning loss.

The USDA’s summer meal programs work to make sure that doesn’t happen. USDA enlists the help of community-based organizations like libraries and museums to serve free summer meals so that children can get the nourishing food they need to learn, play, and grow year round. We can use your help too.



“Choose Civility is an ongoing community-wide initiative, led by Howard County Library System, to position Howard County, Maryland as a model of civility. The initiative intends to enhance respect, empathy, consideration and tolerance in Howard County and with all those that we reach.  We invite all within our community, as well as other communities around the nation, to participate.

Because little things we do during the day can make our community stronger and can inspire others to pay those kindnesses forward, this year’s Civility theme is Kindness Creates Community.

How can you be involved?

Books we are reading

Every week we share books we are currently reading. Check them out by clicking on the links below.  Have you read them? Tell us how you liked them! Do you have other suggestions? Tell us! We are always on the lookout for good books to enjoy!

(Note: the link goes to Amazon.com; and if you buy a book, or anything else, a tiny piece of the sale comes back to CMLE. Any time you shop at Amazon, and start at this link on our site, or one of  the books below, it helps us. We thank you for your support!)

This week, Mary read:
Later Gator (A Miss Fortune Mystery) (Volume 9), by Jana DeLeon  “A poacher is at work in Sinful, Louisiana, and Deputy Carter LeBlanc is hot on the trail of the outlaw, trying to apprehend him before the state gets wind of the crime and sends a game warden to take over his investigation. Unfortunately, he’s hindered every step of the way by Sinful’s current mayor and all-around horrible person, Celia Arceneaux, who wants nothing more than to drive Carter to resign. When a game warden turns up with evidence that implicates a relative of Gertie’s, Carter is left with no choice but to arrest the boy, even though no one thinks he did it. With Carter under the watchful eye of Celia and the state, Fortune, Ida Belle, and Gertie decide to catch a poacher…before he gets away.”


This week Angie read:
Sister Light, Sister Dark, by Jane Yolen ” Legend foretold the child named Jenna, who was three-times orphaned before she could crawl, a fate that would leave her in the hands of women who worshipped the benevolent goddess Great Alta. In this world without men, Jenna comes of age, learning quickly the skills of close combat. But her most powerful gift lies elsewhere: a mirror sister who emerges only in the darkness—a twin named Skada—and shares the soul of the young, white-haired warrior who might well be the goddess reborn. But if Jenna is, in truth, the one whose coming is awaited, there is cause for great alarm among those who rule the Dales, for the prophecy speaks of upheaval and change, and a devastating end of all things.”




Never doubt that the work you do touches lives! Your existence in a library, and your focus on your community make a huge amount of difference in the lives of your patrons. You may never really know the impact you have, and it may take years for it to be fulfilled – but anyone working in a library, and supporting the mission of a library is amazing. Be proud! And speak up about all the great things you have and that you do!!



Here are links to all sorts of useful material on this topic.
Browse and enjoy!


We support libraries!