Editor’s Note: Sierra Snyder is a Library Assistant working in circulation for Manatee County Central Library and a participant in the Harwood Public Innovators Lab underwritten by The Patterson Foundation for library leadership in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
The Harwood Public Innovators Lab has admittedly been an experience of mixed emotions for me. Present me with this unique opportunity to help others, and I’m all onboard: “This is great! This really makes sense for creating change in the community; Wow, the applications of this program to libraries is really interesting!” Tell me that I am going to have to speak with groups of people, approach strangers, and write a blog that others may see, and I suddenly need that inhaler that I grew out of in the sixth grade. And I’m suddenly itchy with nerves. It’s that Harwood Hyperventilation again, quickly followed by the ‘please pass me the ointment’ Harwood Hives. I learned that I was going to have to undergo a massive turn in my thinking, feeling, and actions in order to fully absorb the teachings that the Harwood Institute was offering. Conveniently enough, there is already a name for this shift: Turning Outward.
Throughout this process, there have been circumstances in which I’ve found myself feeling unsure, self-conscious, and painfully awkward. Fortunately, for each one of these moments, there has been an opportunity for realizing that I am turning inward during my interactions with others. I discovered I was making this process about myself and my own insecurities, which made it difficult to properly communicate with others. If I were instead to shift my focus and become truly engaged and receptive to these interactions, seeing them as a valuable glimpse into the aspirations of individuals and their communities – it would become an entirely different experience. Stepping outside of one’s self, and the possible discomfort of new situations, allows for a more rewarding and productive means of helping others.
This lesson is one that may have been innately understood by others early into the Harwood labs. Many of our incredible collaborators in this endeavor have years of experience, either through their careers, community service projects, or involvement with various organizations. Others such as myself, may be a little slower on the uptake. This type of community involvement may not come naturally to everyone, and that’s okay. There are so many possibilities for applying the lessons learned from Harwood, and endless means of communicating with the people around us. This flexibility allows for those with different skill sets or ideas to discover their strengths and find their niche within the Harwood process. Not everyone may be ideal for the role of leading a community conversation, but everyone can make meaningful contributions in their own way.
Luckily for me, the Harwood methodology is a journey, not a destination. This way of communicating and working with others is intended to become a part of daily life, and that provides me with ample practice and many more learning opportunities up the road. Gradually, as I spend more time in this environment of collaboration, I am finding that I am becoming more comfortable with the process and more confident in my individual contributions. The awkwardness is still there: it is, after all, a deeply rooted and possibly genetically inherited trait of mine. But I now realize that I should value my own efforts in the same way I value those of our amazing public innovation teams and the community members who have gathered to share their voices. It is important to remember, as Rich Harwood has said, “That each of our small efforts matter and has ripple effects”. Together, awkward bits included, we can make positive change.