Meet Laura Damon-Moore, Madison Public Library

Hey everyone, you’ve heard from me a bit already through a couple of project-specific posts, but Maggie and I want to make sure that you meet us through interviews about our broader community engagement work. To that end, here are my answers to our interview questions.

Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.

My name is Laura Damon-Moore (she/her/hers). I am a Community Engagement Librarian at the Central Library at Madison Public Library in Madison, Wisconsin. I graduated from the iSchool at UW-Madison in 2012, and then worked in small public libraries as a youth librarian doing lots of programming, outreach, and volunteer coordination. In January of 2016 I started my current position at Madison Public Library. That position is much more focused on adults, and is a combination of public service desk work and engagement, which I would categorize as partnership and relationship building, some programming, and project work. Some specific, larger-scale projects that I personally work on include:

Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.

When I first started in 2016, it was very refreshing because it was a new position, so the expectations were very nebulous. I and my one other CE colleague (we are now a team of five!) were just charged with talking to people, no action items or outcomes necessarily. Since those first months, we’ve started to put some projects/initiatives/programs into place, but we work to be very intentional and community-driven when determining how we spend our time. At this point it’s unusual for me and other members of my team to sit around and come up with some brand-new idea that has not been driven or directly led by community members or at the very least, partner organizations. We work really hard not to be prescriptive in our programming and resources. I should note that our team and our approach is very much a work in progress–by no means have we figured out how to do things perfectly 100% of the time.

How has the transition from an internal focus to an external one unfolded at your library?

As a team, we have about two full years of community engagement work under our belts. We are a very new team within Madison Public Library, so there’s been a lot of foundational work done to make, revisit, and strengthen connections. While my core team is based at Central Library, there are other community engagement librarians in many of our eight neighborhood libraries. So a big part of the last two years has also been figuring out who does, and where, and how we support each other’s work across Madison. From what I can tell from folks that have been with MPL for a long time, a lot of the outward facing work was done on an informal basis and by whomever was available at the moment. So the transition has revealed a need to clarify channels of communication, and to get staff organized on the “back end” so that we know our capacity and can respond promptly to community asks.

What’s a challenge or speed bump you’ve encountered in this work?

Identifying community priorities, working collaboratively with community members and partner organizations to determine an appropriate response, while also making sure that we’re not duplicating efforts and not over-committing library resources is challenging, period. It’s a lot to juggle. Communication can easily fall off someone’s radar as soon as you hit a busy time of year, and my capacity can change dramatically depending on staffing levels–someone has to cover the desk. You have to be okay with thinking in three to five year plans. I’ve also run into issues where community wants directly conflict with library policies. For example, we are not supposed to have vendors sell items in the library, but we had a team of community members who wanted to support local vendors at an event, particularly vendors that are women of color. There are workarounds for some of these policies, but it’s also important for staff and the library as an institution to be aware of policies that, in practice, may make it harder to support community initiatives on community terms.

What are your long-term goals for the work that you do?

I really just want to support community endeavors and ideas in an effective and flexible way, to hear from folks about things that are not working well or different approaches, and to have the time and space to make necessary changes to our platforms. So with everything that I work on, I hope I am moving and evolving toward those goals.

Who else is doing interesting work in this area (not necessarily in libraries)? Can be an individual or an institution.

The blog Nonprofit AF has some really terrific articles and perspectives that libraries can learn from, particularly in the area of community engagement. In a lot of ways I think folks working in adult services / public services / reference are showing up late to the community engagement party. Our youth services colleagues have been working very closely and collaboratively with community partners, caregivers, and of course, youth themselves, and they have a whole slew of best practices for us to learn from. And I’ve found that the ABCD Institute, now located at DePaul University, is another solid resource on this topic.

Supporting new citizens with library technology

Greetings, everyone! In this post for the Engaged Library Collaborative, I wanted to highlight a relatively simple but impactful resource that Madison Public Library developed in close partnership with one of the library’s most committed community partners.

First of all, let me introduce myself – my name is Laura, and I am a Community Engagement Librarian for Madison Public Library (WI), based at the Central Library. I work on a team with four other community engagement librarians, all of whom work part time on the public service desk and part time working with partner organizations and community members on different projects or resources.

The partnership I want to talk about today demonstrates a couple of key items in my, and our team’s, evolving approach to community engagement:

  • a willingness to listen and ask questions
  • a collaborative approach to any new program or resource idea
  • a nimbleness internally to use existing library tools and infrastructure when possible.

Where we started

This particular resource started with a question that came to the public service desk: does the library have tablets available for checkout? The simple, fast answer to that is that we do have tablets that can be checked out for use in the library, but not available for patrons to take home.

I happened to be at the desk and got to chatting with the patron, who ended up telling me that she was a staff member at one of our community partners, the Literacy Network, which facilitates English Language Learning workshops, citizenship education, adult literacy and ELL tutoring, computer skills for adults, and lots of other resources. She was asking about the tablets because as it turns out, the USCIS now requires citizenship exams to be completed entirely with a tablet and stylus–including the essay questions. For learners that are brand-new to the technology, these examination conditions add an extra stresser in an already stressful examination setting.

In that initial conversation, which probably lasted 15-20 minutes, we determined a couple of ideal outcomes: could library staff bring tablets to one of the citizenship classes for people to practice with? Could the library make tablets and styluses available for use in the libraries?

I looped in a couple of my team members, both of whom have different tech-related interests, and we got the go-ahead from our supervisor to pursue the idea alongside Literacy Network staff.

What were the results?

After a bunch of emailing and one in-person meeting, we generated the following resource:

The library would make sets of equipment (iPads, tablet stands, charging cables, and styluses) available for checkout for people who are preparing for a citizenship exam. Equipment is only available for use in the library, with a library card. Working with the Literacy Network, we identified five of the nine library locations that are used most frequently by citizenship learners and their tutors, and deployed the tablet sets out to those locations. We ended up spending about $85.00 on the endeavor (mainly to purchase styluses and tablet stands) since we were able to repurpose several older iPads from Central and neighborhood libraries. The tablet sets were distributed to neighborhood libraries with instructions for staff in late February.

One of the comments we heard from the Literacy Network staff is how much they appreciated us actually listening to them throughout the process and more generally, not pitching partnership ideas that they haven’t asked for. Due to connections we had already made at the Literacy Network, we were on very comfortable footing once the idea was raised, and could move relatively quickly. This was a great opportunity to hear about a very clear community need, and to assess library resources to repurpose older technology in support of that need. And on a very positive note, so far a number of learners have been able to practice with the technology in advance of their citizenship exams.

Plans for the future include library staff traveling to the Literacy Network citizenship courses, bringing tablets so that learners who cannot make it to a library still have the chance to see and practice with the equipment before their exam, and also incorporating tablet/stylus training into the Literacy Network tutor training to help build capacity. Additionally, the Literacy Network is helping to spread the word about this resource to other citizenship education organizations in Dane County, so that as many people are aware as possible.

This is a solid, recent example of what is possible when we listen to a partner’s needs and act as efficiently as possible internally. The result does not need to be a time-consuming program, and can still have a significant and measurable impact on our community.

Preaching Motivation


Fowl Language Comics

Lately I’ve been on a crusade to convince parents of the old librarian adage: reading is reading. This task is harder than it sounds.

Information era parenting is hard

Parents are sent so many messages constantly about how to raise their children–do this, don’t do that, let them do certain things (or don’t let them, at all costs!). Many of the messages they receive are conflicting, which can be confusing, at best. Other messages are vague and can leave parents to draw their own conclusions, whether those conclusions are backed by research or not. In the information era, as librarians well know, the battle has become helping people navigate an environment of too much information instead of too little. We all need help sometimes sifting through everything that’s out there, and every parent is just doing the best they can with the information they’ve been given.

We see this a lot when it comes to leveled reading programs for younger students. These programs can be a powerful tool for teachers to measure the progress in their students’ reading skills and reading comprehension. But when parents are given progress reports that list their children’s current reading levels, they may become anxious that their children are not making enough progress, or they may think that their children must read books that are at their current level. Sometimes they begin to think that their child should be reading books at a higher level, and other times they don’t want their child to attempt a book “too advanced” for them. Captain Underpants is too juvenile; Rainbow Magic books are all the same (trust me, I know). All of these motivations come from a place of love, of wanting to provide their child with the structure and support they need to grow in their abilities as readers. There is an opportunity here for us as librarians, experts in all things books and reading, to help parents understand what research-based methods are out there that can help their children along this journey.

Bringing the message to them–meet them where they are

As a part of my community engagement work, I try to regularly visit PTO meetings for each of the 8 buildings in our local school district. If I can make it to each PTO group once a school year, I call it a win. Partly, my goal is to hear about the projects that parents in our community are working on and what concerns they may have about their children. My other goal is to introduce myself to parents and get to know them, so they know the library is available to support them in the work they do to raise their families. This school year, I’ve also started using my time at these meetings to spread the good word about intrinsic reading motivation, in hopes it will add some important tools to their parenting toolbox.

The research into reading all agrees that when kids read from intrinsic motivation, a knowledge that reading is a fun and enjoyable activity in its own right, as opposed to extrinsic–reading for prizes, or reading to avoid punishment–their outcomes are better across the board. They are more excited to read, their comprehension deepens, and they develop their reading skills more readily. Likewise, if children perceive themselves as strong readers or if they have books that they are excited to read, they are more likely to have stronger intrinsic motivation to read and continue developing those skills.

Practical ideas can make the greatest impact

Another strong indicator for high intrinsic reading motivation is that the child has a supportive family reading environment at home. This is the part of my talk with parents that I like to open up for discussion, so folks have the opportunity to share some ways they’re already supporting their kids’ love of reading. It’s a wonderful opportunity to validate parents in the knowledge that they’re already doing some things right, and it also allows them to share ideas with one another and connect to each other in the shared goal of supporting their kids. If they’re stumped, here’s some ideas I share with them to get the conversation moving:

  • Let your kids see you reading: children are always looking to their parents for examples of what a successful adult looks like. Any opportunity for parents to show their kids that they think reading is a valuable use of time will make a difference.
  • Let your kids pick their own pleasure reading books: they’ll be more excited to read and more likely to read more often! I know, Captain Underpants for the 500th time is exhausting. But it’s such a gift when they have a book they actually want to read.
  • Talk about books with your child. Did they like it? What was it about? Do you want to read it too so you can discuss it together?
  • Read with your child. No one is too old to be read to–even if they’re reading on their own, taking the time to read together builds a special bond and fondness for the shared time and activity.

There’s so many other great ways to build a supportive family reading environment at home; these are just some ideas to get you and your community talking and thinking together.

Edit 2/22/19:


Any good librarian cites her sources. To learn more about intrinsic reading motivation, check out the articles below. If you’re interested in my much more detailed notes and references on the topic, contact us!

Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual review of psychology53(1), 109-132.

Froiland, J. M., Peterson, A., & Davison, M. L. (2013). The long-term effects of early parent involvement and parent expectation in the USA. School Psychology International34(1), 33-50.

Katzir, T., Lesaux, N. K., & Kim, Y. S. (2009). The role of reading self-concept and home literacy practices in fourth grade reading comprehension. Reading and Writing22(3), 261-276.

Schaffner, E., Schiefele, U., & Ulferts, H. (2013). Reading amount as a mediator of the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation on reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly48(4), 369-385.

Share your stuff with ELC

Are you a library worker doing community engagement work? Do you have a great example of an engagement tool or initiative that you would like to share on the Engaged Library Collaborative? We’re especially looking for ideas that are deeply community-driven or community-led, and platforms or initiatives that support open dialogue and true collaboration between libraries and community members.

Email ELC editors Laura and Maggie using this form:

We can’t wait to hear from you.

Meet Bryan Voell, Johnson County Libraries

It’s my pleasure to welcome Bryan Voell to the ELC today. I know Bryan from several years of working together (virtually) on the Library as Incubator Project–he is doing very interesting work at Johnson County Libraries in Kansas. Enjoy! ~Laura

Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.

My name is Bryan Voell and I’m the Local Arts Librarian for the Johnson County (KS) Library. I also answer to Reference Librarian, the public service responsibilities of which are the core of what I do. Before starting in this position about five and a half years ago, I was the Assistant Branch Manager for one of our busier branches. When I was hired for my current position, I was asked by my then-manager what I would choose as a focus area. (Each of our nine Librarians have a focus area: Civic Engagement, Careers and Personal Finance, Incarcerated Services, Local History, Reader’s Advisory and Makerspace.) We had never previously had a Local Arts as a reference focus, so this was new to both me and the organization.

What is your approach to community engagement, or outreach, or partnerships, in your work?

Two of my main roles as Local Arts Librarian are coordinator of our Exhibitions program, which brings visual art and artists to our nine branch art galleries; and Local Music (formerly called Listen Local), our online blog that spotlights Kansas City-area original composers and songwriters. Neither of these programs could exist without community engagement and partnerships.

For Exhibitions, we partnered with two community-based arts organizations to create official branch annexes. Those particular branch galleries were given physical upgrades, complete with signage that reflected the partnership. The partnerships essentially work like this: We provide the space, they curate the art, and work with the artist(s) to get the work installed and removed. We see our partners as the experts in their field, people with deep connections to the local arts communities. We are only happy to share our spaces with them.

Local Music - Bryan Voell

Our Local Music project exists in the same way as other local music projects (digital and otherwise) exist. Reaching out to these artists is absolutely essential. We can no longer “just” order music CDs through a vendor and shelve them in Local Music. We must engage with artists one-on-one. This to me is complete joy.

How does that approach play out in your day-to-day work?

Our Local Music blog is updated weekly. This means a portion of every week is dedicated to corresponding with artists, usually via email, about an interview. Where outreach and partnerships really come into play is with programming. We don’t feel the need replicate what is already being done elsewhere. There are several high quality arts organizations just in the vicinity doing great work, offering creative and educational workshops for artists and other community members, studio space, artist talks, etc. It really doesn’t make sense for our library to offer the same programs these other organizations do; but it does make sense for us to collaborate and compliment each other.

Part of my job is meeting with other arts advocates and discovering ways we can work together. Another part of my job is more desk-focused: sending invitations to be interviewed or to perform, putting the blog together, coordinating with artists over email. Last but not least, another aspect of my work is public service-centered. This means working at one of our four public service stations, helping people use our library, helping people find answers, offering computer help, etc.

What do you think makes librarians in particular suited to this work?

Libraries are all about collections and connections: connecting patrons to materials and experiences that may help inspire and educate. They are great hubs for community activity. People use them for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time we are oblivious to the ways the people we serve use our buildings and digital resources, making the opportunity for connections between seemingly disparate things enormous. As Local Arts Librarian, my role as library advocate intersects with the role of local arts advocate. The library is by its very nature a creative incubator. I’m lucky enough to work in a place where Local Arts Librarian is a real title, reflecting the larger values of the organization.

What are your long-term goals for the work that you do?

The goals are cyclical and always need to be tied to our Strategic Plan. For me, goals usually emanate from questions:  How can we make our local music project more accessible, marketable and scalable? How can we work more closely with our partners to enhance the library experience for our patrons? What is my capacity? How do I define what’s working and what’s not?

Links & more:

Filling in the gaps

This week, a resident and partner shared with me an article from Nonprofit Quarterly titled The Organic Role of Libraries as Centers of Inclusiveness and Support, about major metro library systems who employ social workers. It’s an especially pertinent topic right now as the Midwest, where Laura and I both live, is gripped by record-breaking temperature lows. It’s only (only!) -6°F here in Cleveland. It’s gotten as low as -28°F in Chicago, and wind chills across the region have reached the -50°s. (I grew up in Tennessee, y’all. I didn’t know temps this low were even possible.) The New York Times reported Wednesday that at least 4 people have already died in relation to the cold. This week, all of our vulnerable populations are especially vulnerable.


Source: Joshua Gunter,

But librarians are vigilant. My inbox is filled with coworkers sharing resources with one another, to ensure we all know how to help anyone in need. The good news is, agencies and citizens are stepping up to care for our own. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless maintains a street card that informs people where they can find essential services for housing and food. Greater Cleveland RTA is keeping several transit centers open 24/7, and shelters are not requiring their guests to leave during the day and have promised they will turn no one away. Area social workers are working round the clock to monitor the streets and ensure no one is left outside. As I was typing this just now, a kind-hearted patron brought me a bag of brand-new hats and gloves so that we may give them away to youth in the library under-dressed for the extreme weather.

Social workers are specially trained to know how to tie all of these resources together, in a much deeper and more impactful way than librarians’ standard reference practices can achieve. Libraries like Denver Public Library and San Francisco Public Library, both in communities with high levels of need, are growing social work programs to help connect patrons with social resources. For many smaller libraries, however, adding a new staff member, let alone a team, just isn’t feasible. But by developing relationships with social work agencies in our area, we can work to fill in our gaps in service by sharing resources.

Bellefaire JCB is an agency local to us in Northeast Ohio that cares for youth in a myriad of ways–one of which is their Homeless and Missing Youth department, which administers the Safe Place program in Cuyahoga County (Greater Cleveland and many surrounding suburbs). Through this program, when a community space is designated as a Safe Place, we post an identifying sign so that any youth in trouble know they can come to any staff member and get help. In our area, we call Bellefaire, and they will come meet the youth and connect them with housing, counseling, or anything else to meet their needs. We can also just call their hotline to ask advice on how to handle a hard situation. It’s a service we at the library would struggle to meet on our own, but by partnering with Bellefaire, we’re able to help widen the safety net for at-risk youth in our area. There’s a whole network of Safe Places in Cuyahoga County; most libraries have earned the Safe Place designation, and every bus and train in RTA is a Safe Place as well. We at Shaker also partnered with our local schools and police department to ensure that students and police are aware of the program and the services Bellefaire provides.

What ways have you been able to fill in the gaps in your service through relationship building? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Meet Ray Lockman, Hennepin County Library

Welcome to a new week and a new interview! We are pleased to present Ray Lockman, librarian, teacher, and inclusion consultant. Enjoy! -Maggie

1. Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.

I’m Ray Lockman. They/them/their pronouns, please! Currently I’m a librarian at the Minneapolis Central branch of Hennepin County Library. I started as a substitute librarian at HCL soon after graduating from library school in 2011. It took me a few years of mostly jigsawing part-time gigs together before landing at HCL permanently as a Patron Experience Supervisor (HCL’s version of a branch manager) in 2017. After a year, I decided I missed patrons too much and was able to transfer to Central. I also teach graduate and continuing education courses for University of Wisconsin-Madison’s iSchool and consult on inclusion in libraries.

We have so much to learn from people who aren’t patrons, from those who don’t use the library or understand what we do. Leaving our buildings to engage folks helps us do that.

2. Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.

I think community engagement requires leaving the building sometimes. We as libraries need to ask questions–what do folks need and want from the library?–and truly let those answers steer our environments, online and in person. We have so much to learn from people who aren’t patrons, from those who don’t use the library or understand what we do. Leaving our buildings to engage folks helps us do that. But patrons are not libraries’ only community requiring engagement. I think the work we do within our staffs or between organizations, agencies, and municipalities is also engagement work.

3. How does that philosophy play out in your day-to-day work?

I do a good bit of more traditional community engagement as coordinator of Central’s New American Center. Right now, we’re reenvisioning programming and collections, so I partnered with the Minnesota Literacy Council to do a comprehensive environmental scan: We surveyed patrons, tabled in the lobby, visited other programs, and met with knowledgeable leaders within HCL and from interested community organizations. So a lot of it is being willing to get outside the building and ask folks what they need.

I do maybe even more work engaging the staff community around issues of diversity and inclusion, especially trans inclusion. I am co-chair of a countywide employee resource group and we work on a lot of policy projects stemming from employees’ reported experiences in the workplace.

That work, conveniently, dovetails with HCL’s Transfabulous series of art workshops and exhibits centering trans and gender nonconforming folks. We instituted a new model this year: Three library project managers and three community curators. The library PMs’ job is to give logistical support to the community curators’ vision. It’s going well–they know what they want and need better than we ever could, and then we get to lend our resources to give artists exposure and paid work.

Basically, my weeks are full of meetings to nurture relationships and incubate ideas and check in with teams and partners.

4. How has the transition from an internal focus to an external one unfolded at your library?

There are some staff who have felt empowered to engage for a while, but the newish explicit expectation for librarians, especially, to do so has honestly created a decent amount of tension. Community engagement work is my passion, but it’s not everybody’s. I think libraries would do well to allow their staff to specialize. Yes, every library should be doing community engagement, but it’s okay for some staff to focus on collections or other areas if that’s their strength. If only we had a big enough staff to allow us to wear fewer hats!

We will continue to cause harm and hold unintentionally offensive programs and commit micro and macroaggressions until we truly transform who we are as a profession.

5. What’s a challenge or speed bump you’ve encountered in this work?

I see two major challenges: One is impatience. Relationships take a long time to develop. When we focus on a narrow definition of productivity, library staff can be pressured to roll out programs that aren’t well developed, or even harmful. If we had the staffing and philosophy that truly values coffee with the immigration lawyer next door as work–even if it takes 5 coffee dates to think of a program–we could be doing such more meaningful work. So maybe by impatience I truly mean funding. We need to have the funding to have the luxury of patience!

The other is the whiteness of librarianship. We are not mirrors of our community, so we can never gain true trust and integration with the people we say we want to serve. And we will continue to cause harm and hold unintentionally offensive programs and commit micro and macroaggressions until we truly transform who we are as a profession.

6. What do you think makes librarians in particular suited to this work?

I don’t know that it’s all librarians, and I don’t think librarians alone are suited–some of our best community engagement staff don’t have the MLIS. What they do have–the good ones–is real care for people and an unapologetic eye to social justice.

7. Who else is doing interesting work in this area (not necessarily in libraries)? Can be an individual or an institution.

St. Paul Public Library is doing awesome work with their Wash and Learn program in laundromats–and it’s catching on!

A whole team at Hennepin County Library is doing community-embedded librarianship in the Latinx, Indigenous, and Somali communities. I’m excited to see how that continues to develop.

To learn more about Ray’s Transfabulous program, read Southwest Journal’s write-up of the Beyond the Binary exhibit.