There’s something wonderful and seemingly simple about the photograph on the cover of this issue that I don’t want you to miss: the mayor of Wichita, KS, and the director of the library—Carl Brewer and Cynthia Berner Harris, respectively—standing side by side in a group of civic leaders and key staff. This coalition is “activating” Wichita with strategic thinking that is informed through an open town hall–style forum that taps solutions from the community. If your library isn’t part of such planning, and gathering a similar group in your library would be a no-go, you have work to do.
You also have a road map of sorts to follow in the story of Wichita Public Library’s (WPL) role in Visioneering Wichita, a citywide process to establish new priorities for the institutions, agencies, and governance of the city and how the library aligns its work with those priorities. The inspiring story is detailed in John Berry’s profile of WPL, the winner of the 2014 LibraryAware Community Award, “Engaging Everyone in Town.”
That’s what is unique and important about the LibraryAware Award. Many such honors recognize excellence in service and innovative approaches to local problems. Often strong ties to civic initiatives and goals go hand in hand with that. This award, sponsored by LibraryAware, a product of EBSCO Information Services’ NoveList Division, and now in its second year, pinpoints the leadership at work in a community united through its institutions toward a common goal—with the library right in the mix, at the center.
The second and third place honorees bring their own modeling as well. Atlantic County Library System, NJ, garnered the judges’ kudos for its key role in Superstorm Sandy recovery, and Kitsap Regional Library in Bremerton, WA, inspired their attention with its strategic planning around community engagement and using tools to measure and evaluate that work accordingly. These libraries, too, are worthy examples of innovative leadership.
What made WPL stand out? Among other strong initiatives, the library brought the community itself to the process of shaping Wichita’s future with the development of a tool for crowdsourcing solutions to issues: the Activate Wichita website. Activate Witchita is powered by MindMixer software, which was created in 2010 by two urban planners who wanted to encourage more involvement and feedback than they had witnessed in traditional face-to-face community meetings. The website, which is used by the library to explore potential services, has also enabled a new level of community engagement in municipal decision-making on issues from the priorities for the city budget to responding to a water conservation crisis and much more.
WPL’s stance as a driver in building Wichita’s future is not about playing politics, it’s about seeing problems and setting out to solve them. It has made WPL a go-to partner in moving Wichita forward.
I see the awards LJ gives as both a celebration of work very well done and a call to action. Public libraries are key civic institutions, most agree. While they are often highly valued by other community authority, they aren’t always seen in the full light of their capacity to be transformative to the well-being of a city, town, or county. The best public libraries get that way through leadership that takes a place at the table wherever decisions about the future of the community are being made. Great librarians win their way to such tables, and, in the case of Wichita, they help to set the agenda, too.