Editor's Note: Ava Ehde is the library services manager for the Manatee County Public Library System. Sarabeth Kalajian is the director of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources. This was originally published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
The library is home to a collection of knowledge, stories, ideas and experiences pulled from the world’s greatest minds throughout human history. Its open, inviting environment encourages discovery — not only personally but with other like-minded explorers. Therein lies one of the library’s greatest assets: the power to spark conversations and collaborations among people from different walks of life.
In the case of the Manatee and Sarasota County Public Library Systems, this collaborative spirit is present in all that we do for our region — as well as with each other. Despite geographic borders, our systems have a history of working together toward a common goal: to ensure that every family has equal access to the resources they need to fulfill their potential and pursue their dreams.
That’s why we’re grateful to The Patterson Foundation for generously providing representatives from both of our systems with ongoing opportunities to collaborate, network and ultimately enrich the lives of our region’s citizens through the Aspirations to Actions initiative.
This initiative connects our staff with the time-tested strategies and techniques of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonprofit renowned for helping communities worldwide learn ways to “turn outward” — using citizens’ aspirations as the point of reference for projects and efforts on a variety of topics. These methods enable communities to strengthen the work already underway to generate positive change while creating new possibilities for future endeavors.
Library staff from both Manatee and Sarasota counties joined a cohort of nearly 120 community members for this journey, including consultants for The Patterson Foundation and individuals actively applying The Harwood Institute’s model throughout the region.
Over the course of a recent two-and-a-half day Public Innovators Lab facilitated by The Patterson Foundation, experts from The Harwood Institute led our staff through a series of workshops and exercises designed to teach participants proven ways to inspire community members to become the architects of change, regardless of the focus area being addressed.
The Patterson Foundation has shared a grand opportunity for our respective staffs to connect, learn from one another and develop lasting bonds that transcend county lines through this work — bonds that will add to a history of collaborative efforts between our library systems.
Some of these efforts have focused on strengthening our operations, such as joint staff orientations for colleagues and sharing staff with outside library branches for special projects. We’ve also co-hosted amnesty weeks, during which patrons are able to clear outstanding fees at no cost — paving their way to rediscovering the libraries’ resources.
Others have focused on benefiting our communities through partnerships with service organizations and coordinated efforts for literacy expos, continuing education courses, and summer literacy programs.
These community-focused collaborations stand to gain the most from The Harwood Institute’s methodology. The relationships and knowledge gained through this initiative will evolve programs like One Book One Community and our combined efforts in the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading into projects of a grander scale, targeting a larger population based on needs identified by residents.
We will seek ongoing opportunities to share our newfound knowledge as Public Innovators with our colleagues in county government to enhance their services for the community. Through our involvement in regional and statewide library-development programs, we have a strong channel with which to share The Harwood Institute’s tools and teachings with communities across Florida — and potentially our nation.
Aspirations to Actions enhances the robust connections between our two library systems, which will ultimately benefit our patrons and all who call our region home. We look forward to fostering an engaged and inspired populace through our future collaborations.
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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