Community Engagement Report from KU

I have recently enjoyed reading the Community Engagement Report. If you need a reminder, in April and May of this year JCL managers and the KU Public Management Center engaged the community through a series of stakeholder interviews, focus groups and surveys. More than 14,500 community members responded to the survey and we received more than 260 responses to the staff survey.

The data and ideas in the report provide clear strategic direction and illuminate areas where JCL needs to focus. We will use this data to update the Library’s next five-year strategic plan.

Looking back at the last five years, I now understand that for many of you the present strategic plan did not connect your daily work to the larger strategic outcomes. I am reading your comments and I want to find ways and opportunities for you to connect with this new strategic plan.

It is my personal goal that everyone in the organization can see how the work they do each day connects to our strategic goals, outputs and outcomes.

Many of you shared that the theme “Community Building” was not well defined, and I think this is a fair comment. The community still wants us to focus on the themes of Education, Community Building and Convenience, we are in the process of adding greater definition and clarity to these terms.

In my own mind I had always thought of “Community Building” as a combination of mindset and library programs, services and events that would both grow and strengthen our connections to our patrons and the community at large.

Community Building is a mindset at Johnson County Library where as an organization we are open and inclusive. We constantly look for ways to collaborate and innovate with other individuals and organizations to find new ways to provide services. Johnson County Library believes that working with others who have shared values, goals and vision contributes to building a stronger community. Success is defined by building positive and collegial relationships between patrons and partner organizations.

This sounds very idealistic, but does this happen in the real world? A recent example with real world results is the relationship the library has created with the City of Merriam. The outcome of that relationship is that we will be building the new Antioch Library adjacent to Merriam’s new Community Center. The City has donated the land to the library.

So how is this “Community Building”?

I have many interactions and conversations that go unseen. I want to share some of these to help you understand the relationships that needed to be in place and sustained for a project like this occur.
Last year I met with the Merriam City Manager and we talked about the new community center. I toured the old community center and spoke to a counsel person about this new community center initiative. We discussed the idea that the Antioch Library could co-locate within the community center.

I shared this information with the Library Board. The Library Board met with the City Manager, and the City Manager and I had multiple conversations with the Board of County Commissioners and the County Managers Office. We came to consensus that everyone was onboard – at least at a very high conceptual level.

These types of discussions just do not happen at one meeting or even over a couple of weeks. They generally happen over many months, as all potential stakeholders need to have a chance to process the information and then have an opportunity to give their feedback.
There are procedures we need to follow, and the Library Board needed to discuss this proposal in open session and do their due diligence. The Library Board listened to the City of Merriam officials, architects gave presentations and Library Staff, working with the County Budget Office, completed a cost analysis. Throughout this process, the focus remained on preserving strong working relationships and creating a community of people with a shared vision.

Once the Library Board had heard all the information from all stakeholders and had their questions surrounding this project answered, they agreed to change the priority of the Capital Library Master Plan (CLMP) to take advantage of this opportunity.
There are many other people I haven’t talked about who were also involved in moving this project forward. In each instance, someone from the administrative team worked with these groups.
For example, County facilities also looked over the plan and agreed that it made sense for the Library Board to take advantage of the opportunity.

JCL’s communication team started working with the City’s communication department and we issued joint messages to the media.

Even with all this work there are hurdles that arise.
We looked at preliminary designs and had concerns and asked the City if they would consider altering those designs. They listened and heard our concerns. We created a special task force to work together to design a solution that would work for everyone. The City worked with the neighbors surrounding the new site. They talked with IKEA to see if they would be okay with providing overflow parking and they agreed.

JCL’s administrative staff attended a joint City and Library Board meeting to see the finalized proposal.
The Library Board authorized me to go forward with the programming element and land conveyance.

All this was possible because of the strong relationship between the City and the Library. We believe that shared parking and co-location will be good for the community. This is one way that the library connects and builds strong working relationship with municipalities and achieves the goal of “Community Building”.

I am sharing this example because it is one that I was closely involved with. However, I know through the work you do each day at your library and from all the positive comments I am reading in the report that you are in the community building process each day with the service you provide to our patrons.