The Potential of the Public Library

Posted by Gina Millsap on March 08, 2017 at 2:33 PM

The Topeka Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) in Topeka, Kansas incorporated elements from the Rising to the Challenge vision report in a series of community conversations in the spring and summer of 2015. The conversations were co-convened with Heartland Visioning, a multi-year initiative that provides a community-wide forum to give voice to resident’s concerns and aspirations, verify community priorities, convene public and private partnerships and communicate with the public. The library used these community engagement events to seek community input as part of the library’s strategic planning process.


Senior staff of the library worked with Dialogue advisors to create a program and presentation drawing on the vision report as well as other resources, and used a SOAR analysis as the primary facilitation technique (see Section 8 of the Action Guide for more information on SOAR analysis). The library created a handout for facilitators to use with each group attending the meetings. From May through August 2015, six 90-minute community engagement meetings were held throughout different regions of Topeka and Shawnee County (East/Central, Southwest, North, South/East, South, East/Central and All Areas). In addition to the geographic diversity, each location selected provided an unique opportunity to engage a different audience in the community.

The first meeting was held at the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library building in late May with invitations targeted to community leaders and elected officials. Subsequent events were held at a civic center, a community center, a bar and bistro, a church, the YMCA and a ministry facility serving immigrant communities. The meetings provided an opportunity for the TSCPL to help people understand better the potential of the public library in their lives and the life of the community. Perhaps more importantly, they offered an opportunity for the library staff to learn what residents of Topeka Shawnee County like about their community, what they would like to change, and what their aspirations are for the future.

Gina Millsap
Chief Executive Officer
Topeka Shawnee County Public Library