The Topeka and Shawnee County Library team is continually developing approaches in services, programs, and collections that empower the citizens of our community. We believe the library’s role is to enable people to learn, connect, develop skills, and contribute to their community.

In 2014, we surveyed 3,200 households to help determine specific needs, and received 844 completed surveys, double the number required to be statistically significant. In 2015, we held community meetings to develop our community impact goals. Participants were asked what roles and services the library should emphasize in the next few years, and we have crafted our strategies based on those responses.

CREATING CONNECTIONS
Because we serve a community of nearly 180,000 people with no branches, we have strengthened our reach through partnerships with other organizations. Our work with Shawnee County Parks and Recreation has expanded library programs and services to nine community center locations, six with computer labs, on-site library programs at all of them, and a Smartlocker self-service delivery system. Our librarians work shifts at 712 Innovations, the community’s maker-space, helping entrepreneurs to do research like applying for small business loans, or assisting others with technology and other equipment. Families can check out a passport to visit the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, a fun, hands-on children’s attraction with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, art and math. And, in 2017, we will partner with United Way of Greater Topeka to introduce Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to preschool children, who receive a specially selected book each month. These and other key initiatives connect us to the community—and connects community members to us in powerful ways. These connections give us unique insight into the needs and potential of people around us so that we can tailor and expand our programs.

CREATING FACILITATORS
We’ve found that librarians have a built-in capacity for facilitation because it requires developing relationships based on trust. Our core values and skills as information professionals make us naturals in:

• listening without judging
• maintaining confidentiality
• finding and synthesizing information on a variety of topics
• valuing diverse and different perspectives

To be more effective in meetings, we worked with our colleagues at Heartland Visioning, our community change organization, to bring Effective Facilitator/Masterful Meetings™ training to our staff. This effort increased our leadership capacity and enhanced our reputation as community leaders through the power of facilitation. We now have 42 trained facilitators who work within the library and in the community to help groups of smart people achieve great things together.

It’s a natural progression to take our skills and passion for customer service out into the community, meeting needs right where they arise.

CREATING COMMUNITY CHANGE
As a 21st-century library, our information professionals go everywhere and do everything necessary to dovetail our skills and resources with the needs of the community. We’re always looking for opportunities to extend our reach and make a difference. We’ve seized opportunities to help cultivate strong leadership in the community. Every year one library employee participates in the Leadership Greater Topeka training course, which encompasses a broad cross section of both veteran and aspiring leaders from every corner of the community. This activity helps our organization develop skills and vital relationships with other community leaders.

Candidate School is a program the library partners with the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters to provide education for prospective city council members, city commissioners, and school board members. Potential candidates interact with city and county officials, as well as past officeholders to learn firsthand about running a campaign, election filings and deadlines, campaign fundraising, how to synthesize constituent points of view into a coherent platform, how to work with other leaders to develop strong public policy and, what to expect if they win.The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library staff are crisscrossing 550 square miles of the city and county, bringing resources, materials, services and our facilitation expertise to people and organizations that empower our community to achieve positive change.

This article was published in IMPACT magazine. Get more insight on empowering your library from industry leaders >>

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