Developing a Broad Foundation of Community Engagement

Posted by Rubi Simon on March 07, 2017 at 4:01 PM

Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT

Fletcher Free Library (FFL) serves the small city of Burlington, Vermont located on eastern shore of Lake Champlain an hour of the Canadian border. Burlington is Vermont’s most populous city and the state’s economic center. Burlington’s population remains relatively stable at approximately 45,000, however our demographics are ever-changing.


Descendants of indigenous communities and early settlers (arriving 400 years ago) still live in the region. In the late nineteen century, immigrants from Eastern Europe, Lebanon and Italy arrived. More recently, as a refugee resettlement site, Burlington is home to immigrants from Congo, Ghana, Somalia, Iraq, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, Burma – among others – further enriching cultural origins. Burlington has two museums, two colleges, a university, a medical school and teaching hospital. Burlington is unlike any other city in Vermont or the US.

In October 2014, the Fletcher Free Library embarked on a journey that continues today – the development of our strategic plan for 2016-2019. Under the guidance of a national library consultant, it rapidly became apparent to Fletcher Free that our plan would need to be developed on a broad foundation of community engagement. Fletcher Free dedicated the next year to establishing community dialogues – organizing forums and focus groups, and administering a survey to the community. During this community engagement period, we engaged in the pilot phase of the Action Guide.

Our use of the Action Guide validated the community engagement process underway when it was published in August 2015. Additionally, the Action Guide has helped us organize and analyze the feedback and input obtained from forums and focus groups completed previously – specifically Action Steps for Library Leaders and Strategies for Success. We have plans for additional community dialogue with Burlington teens and newcomers to Burlington for which we will be using Jobs and Economic Development, The Library as a Civic Resource, The Library as Literacy Champion, as well the Planning and Convening Public Dialogue guides.

Additionally, integral to our strategic plan implementation is a commitment to public engagement, adaptive management, and accountability. The Action Guide, along with a City-wide community engagement handbook, will be instrumental in the development of the mechanisms to ensure continued understanding of changing community needs.

Rubi O Simon
Library Director
Fletcher Free Library