Session Notes: ALA Annual Conference | Compendium

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Brianna Crum

Brianna Crum


By Brianna Crum,
District Consultant Librarian,
Dauphin County Library System

This past June, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the annual American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Chicago, IL.  The conference was attended by over 20,000 librarians, library workers, and library supporters from across the world.  Overall, it was a very informative conference, with many opportunities to learn about new library trends, new developments in providing library services, and how libraries can be more impactful in the communities we serve.

One of the focuses of my attending the conference was to learn how to better community partnerships between libraries and other organizations.  The need for libraries to work towards establishing effective and worthwhile partnerships with other organizations is one that cannot be ignored, and a result of these partnerships can be a strengthened and renewed spirit of the community.  Our local communities are facing complex social issues, including but not limited to education, poverty, health and safety.

One of the sessions I attended Saturday morning was Communities in Need, Let’s Work Together: Collective Impact as a Model of Collaboration.  The presenters of this session included Annette Mattei, Project Coordinator of the Paschalville Partnership, Karisa Tashjian, Director of Education of the Providence Public Library, and Tim Carrigan from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

This session was a panel discussion on the principles and components of the collective impact model, which focuses on a common agenda and collaboration among organizations from different sectors in combined effort against issues faced in their local communities.  The session had the following learning objectives:

  • To cover the principles and components of collective impact, which is identified by the ALA’s Center for the Future of Libraries as a trend relevant to libraries and librarians,
  • To learn how libraries are increasingly involved in collective impact, with a focus on the Free Library of Philadelphia and Providence Public Library as timely examples of how these organizations are spearheading initiatives in their communities, and
  • To learn about the unique attributes that libraries can bring to collective impact initiatives and some practical tips for launching an initiative.

The panelists defined collective impact as “a systematic approach to social impact that focuses on the relationship between organizations and their progress toward shared objectives” (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011).  They explained that there are five conditions of cooperative success that must be met for collective impact to be effective:

(From panel presentation, ALA Annual Conference, 6/24/2017)

Without these conditions in place, it can be difficult for a collaborative venture between organizations to be successful.  While it’s certainly not easy work, there is great value in collaboration; thinking that we can all work in our own silos as organizations and move our community positively forward is no longer an acceptable way of operating.  The main goal of collective impact is to bring together partners to rally around a social need.  The creation, building and fostering of relationships between partnering organizations and the activities that are a result of these partnerships can have a synergistic effect in the community.  It’s important, now more than ever, to talk about the goals of the community in aspirational terms; the panelists referenced using a mindset of appreciative inquiry, as it can help to change the conversation from a place of negativity to positivity in order to help move in the right direction.

So, how do libraries fit into the equation of collective impact?  Libraries are uniquely positioned in that they have a great presence within communities, largely because they are trusted institutions with inherent goodwill.  Another wonderful aspect of libraries is that they can act as a convener for providing a space to meet, and can act as a facilitator when it comes to having community conversations.  Where does your library have a niche in your community?  What kind of conversations could you have now with the organizations you already partner with?  Are there any organizations that you haven’t yet made the connection with that would be beneficial for your community?  Also, look at those who are working in the library; what is their expertise in, and are they aware of any partnerships that could have a beneficial impact on the community?

If your library is currently working in partnership with other organizations, one important question to keep in mind is: What is the measurable impact or change because of what we are doing, especially as it relates to the community?  If the impact or change is not community-focused, is it still worth doing?

Another important point made by the panelists is remembering to think in terms of contribution and not attribution; recognition is truly not as important when compared to the result of positive community change.  Partnering with other organizations can bring about sustainability and relevance for a library, especially during a time when securing funding for libraries is paramount.  Sustainability, which is something all libraries, directors, and trustees should be concerned with, is much easier and better accomplished when you’re not ‘going it alone.’

Many thanks to the Office of Commonwealth Libraries and LSTA for making this opportunity possible for me to attend the annual ALA Conference!

This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.