Libraries Transforming Communities

Frequently Asked Questions

If your question is not answered on this page or in the project guidelines, please contact the Public Programs Office at 312.280.5045, or

Do I need to create an account?

If you have applied for recent projects with the Public Programs Office, such as the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, StoryCorps @ your library, or Changing America, you may use the same username and password. If you have forgotten your password, you may reset it. If you do not have an account, all you need to create one is an email address. Registration is public and free.

What if I have problems with the application?

Please contact the Public Programs Office (312.280.5045, if you encounter difficulty with the site.

May applications be submitted in hardcopy?

No. Applications must be submitted online at by 11:59 p.m. Central Time, on March 6, 2014. Applications that are late or incomplete will not be reviewed.

Will only successful applicants receive notification about the outcome of the application?

All applicants will be notified by ALA, regardless of the outcome of their applications. Libraries will be notified via e-mail by April 4, 2014. If your library has not received notification by the stated date, please contact the Public Programs Office (312.280.5045,

What does "Turned Outward" mean?

The Harwood approach to community engagement hinges on "turning outward", a strategy where the community and the people are the reference point for getting things done. For libraries this means shifting the institutional and professional orientation of libraries and librarians from internal to external.

Are tribal libraries eligible?

Yes, tribal libraries serving their communities as public libraries are eligible.

Who should be a part of my proposed team?

It is required that the library director and an additional library manager be members of the 3-5 person team. The additional 1-3 team members may include additional library staff, and/or up to 2 community members or volunteers who have an understanding of the library and community (e.g., a library trustee, board member or active friends group member).

What if a member of my team can’t come to the May Public Innovation Lab?

Attendance by all proposed team members is mandatory at the Public Innovation Lab cohort training in May 2014. During the course of the project as the community outreach practice spreads, the library team may expand to include additional library staff members and other community leaders who will contribute to the initiative, taking their cues from the core team members who completed the the Public Innovation Lab training and related training activities.

What if a member of my team cannot attend the mandatory May Public Innovation Lab, but can participate in the rest of the project?

That team member may be a valuable contributor to your library’s community engagement efforts, but is not an appropriate member of the proposed library team. Attendance by all proposed team members is mandatory.

What if a team member leaves the library/can no longer participate in the cohort after the start of the grant term?

Personnel changes in participating libraries’ teams will be addressed on a case-by-case basis and require approval by ALA project staff. If a new team member is going to join the initial team as a replacement, you must send their name, title, and email address to for approval.

What is the average weekly/monthly library staff time commitment for this project?

Staff and volunteer time on the project will be influenced by a variety of factors and will be different for each library. However, here is an overview of the estimated hours per person associated with each of the project activities:





Estimated hours (per person)

May 20-22, 2014

Public Innovation Lab cohort training


24 hours (3 full training days)

October 2014 (date to be announced by May 2014)

Virtual Innovation Space meeting


5 hours

January 30, 2015

In-person innovation space meeting at the 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting


12 hours (1.5 day meeting)

June 26, 2015

In-person innovation space meeting at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference

San Francisco

12 hours (1.5 day meeting)

June, July, Aug, Oct, Nov. 2014, Feb. 2015



6 hours (1 hour/webinar)


· Coaching and peer dialogue calls (times to be determined with cohort input at the Public Innovators cohort training)

· Preparation for and follow up from calls

· General training application, preparation (For months without in-person training)


27 hours (1.5 hour call/month for 18 month project)

27 hours (1.5 hour per call/month for 18 month project)

105 hours (7 hours/month for 18 month project)

Per library team:


Community Conversations (12-20 in first year)


36-60 hours(3 hours/conversation)

Is it possible for multiple libraries to apply together, if each library does not have the required number of staff?

Small libraries may apply together, if by joining together they gain enough capacity to work as a team to successfully implement the Harwood approach in the community targeted in their application. However, a single library must be the main applying institution, with its library director serving as the administrative agent for the grant.

What would be considered a Library Director/Manager from very large libraries? Can the library decide what that equivalent is?

We have found is that without senior management buy-in to this, it doesn’t work very well. Yes, the library can decide what the equivalent is, and, for example, make the case for the authority of that branch manager. This work often leads to systems change and it is essential for a senior manager to be on the team in order for change management. This is not a situation where a library director can delegate these tasks – the library director needs to have full buy-in to the work of the project and be learning this approach along the team.

Do you have a scoring rubric so that we know what you're giving points for?

Our review process seeks an individual overall score on a scale of one to ten for each application. We do not weight the narrative questions.

Are you looking for libraries with experience with community engagement, or those that are just beginning this process?

There is no set minimum level of community engagement experience. A track record of community engagement is one of the review criteria, however readiness and willingness to pursue this work is also a criteria. The library must make the case for both readiness and willingness, describe the existing level of community engagement, culture of innovation and the reasons this initiative could make a difference to the library and the community.

Does the “manager” team member have to be a branch manager, or can it be an administrator?

We leave this to library’s discretion, but we’ll look for an indication of clear authority structure in narrative. The “project director” is the primary point of contact for project management at the applicant library.

How does this initiative work in communities where the United Way is also working with the Harwood Institute about community engagement? Indiana United Ways are already starting. Does this mesh?

Yes, absolutely. There is a potential for these two organizations to work together. The Harwood Institute has also worked in alliances with Public Broadcasters and AARP. We have also done targeted initiatives with school districts and newspapers. There may be a relevant link in your community to these organizations as well. Include this information and any existing partnerships with United Way, etc. in your proposal narrative.

Are you looking for traditional partnerships (i.e. schools, museums, government) or more innovative ways of partnering (i.e. businesses, nonprofits)?

All of the above – the narrative question regarding specific examples of library innovation can also be a way in your proposal to describe an innovative partnership. The focus here is the extent to which you have, or have actively explored, working with other organizations and networks to do work that no one organization can do on its own.

Could the community engagement plan could be creating a strategic plan for the library?

We have found that the Harwood approach has tremendous implications for strategic planning processes. For instance, a library’s strategic plan can be adjusted by using the public knowledge gathered from the community conversations. However, the project requires implementation of the plan, so libraries will want to look at whether implementation of a full strategic plan is achievable during the project period.

Are you looking for a specific pre-defined community engagement project in the application? Or is determining that part of the 18-month project?

If a pre-defined community engagement project is not too far along in its timeline or is ready to start a new phase of a multi-year plan, it might be a good fit for this program. Libraries will be required to take their community engagement action plan from planning to execution as part of their 18 month commitment.

Whether extending and adapting an existing plan or starting a new plan, the Harwood approach begins with a specific technique for gathering public knowledge from the community first. This includes discovering the shared aspirations for the community, the changes required to achieve those aspirations, and the libraries potential role(s) in achieving those desired changes. This forms the basis for adapting a current plan or creating a new plan. Action plans are short and done in 6 month increments so that you can see what is working in your plan and then pausing to do an innovation space, learn from action taken and adjust as necessary.

Are the innovative spaces training sessions geared toward space design or program design?

Innovation space is literally a physical space and a specific tool that helps you structure the process of learning from action taken and applying that learning to new ways of working. You will do innovation space at two levels—in your library, focused on your work in your community, and secondly across the 10 libraries in the cohort. The learning and implications you generate during an Innovation Space can then be applied to program design, strategic plans, success metrics, etc.

How will the process be designed to equip teams to spread impact of the work throughout the participating libraries?

Team members will be applying the techniques that they are learning with the community, and also with the library staff. As you do your innovation spaces, within your library, you will surface examples of impact that can then be shared throughout your library and with your community. There is a specific tool and technique you will learn for doing this. At the same time, we will gather what you are learning as a cohort of 10 libraries and write innovation case studies that will be shared within your library, your cohort and the full field of library professionals.

The engagement plan defines the process of how we will engage, rather than proposing a project that engages—is that right?

The Harwood practice focuses on “pockets of action.” A pocket can range from: 1) creating spaces for people to gather and identify shared aspirations and what is needed to achieve those aspirations; 2) creating opportunities for informal networks to take action on shared aspirations; 3) strategically convening community leaders to identify ways to support shifting community norms and civic culture; 4) establishing new programs or projects; and 5) coordinating work already underway. The coaching support you will receive will give you guidance about the process of choosing pockets that suit your local community conditions. Community engagement plans will be as specific and concrete as we can make them. Listening is not enough. Your library, working with others, will want to take action in a way that encourages more people and organizations to get involved. We have a tool to help you gauge how small or big these pockets need to be.

For larger library systems with multiple branches, is it preferable to form a team that include staff from more than one library, or narrowing our focus to one library and one community?

This depends on what your envisioned goals are for this project, and the community you want to engage. If you want to focus on the large community, your plan will involve outreach with that whole community. Ask yourself, what do you feel is manageable with your team in 18 months? Both are options; we want to be sure that libraries of all types are in this cohort so that every library can see at least one library that looks like them.

For example, a United Way the Harwood Institute worked with had been accepted into a cohort similar to Libraries Transforming Communities Public Innovators Cohort. Between the time of application and the cohort starting, the initial United Way had merged with 4 other United Ways. This team decided to do their training with a cross-functional team from the merged UW (i.e. the library system) but focus their early work in the original UW (i.e. a library branch). Learning from “the branch UW” was shared widely within the “the system UW” and the full leadership team regularly reviewed how they could draw other parts of the system into the work. The initial “branch UW” acted like an incubator for the larger “system UW.” This is just starting to happen in a couple of the library systems that started in an October 2013 cohort.

Can you give a concrete example of a course of action taken by a group based on something they found out using the Harwood technique?

Examples within a single library system:
  • Starting collective agreement negotiations with the Aspirations Exercise to get both sides starting on the same page. This was credited as the breakthrough moment for what both sides had anticipated might be a stalemate situation
  • Shifting Library borrowing policy and practices based on what they heard through community conversations about what was getting in the way of using library materials
  • Helping governance body at Penn State University talk about returning to its commonwealth roots following the Sandusky scandal

Within a community

  • In Youngstown, OH the public library is now working on a bigger issue of quality of education for all. (Following the takeover of their school board by an Academic Distress Commission appointed by the State of Ohio) This requires broader partnerships that they are just now forming.

Pockets can be as small as the borrowing example, to as large as a community wide effort on education. You will learn about stages of readiness for community change and in early stages just convening the community to talk about aspirations is a change pocket – the library is in a perfect spot to do this convening.

Will participants be expected to be trainers in the future? To train other communities?

That is not a requirement of the grant or for library or library professional participation. However, we do ask that participants serve as ambassadors to the field, and that during the course of the project you communicate candidly to project staff and your peers about your experience and that you share your stories widely.

Does library innovation have to have occurred within last two years exactly—or is 2.5 yrs or so acceptable?

Yes, 2.5 years is acceptable. Please provide details on when the innovation occurred and what the results have been. The key here is to talk about your experience in intentionally working in new and different ways.

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