Meet Maggie Killman, Shaker Heights Public Library

Hi all! My turn to formally introduce myself. In my two years as a CE Librarian in a new position, my work has shifted from running from place to place and always responding to ideas into careful planning to achieve long-term goals. I’m excited to share some of that process with you all.

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

I am Maggie Killman, the Youth Community Engagement Librarian at the Shaker Library. I got where I am now through a combination of luck and a commitment to working with communities. I’ve been working in public libraries for 6 years, and in that time, I’ve always been drawn to projects that utilize partnerships to provide innovative services. In 2016, I was working as a Children’s Librarian here at Shaker when the Youth Community Engagement position was created. It’s been an incredible opportunity to work with colleagues to build a program that enables us to meet our residents where they are and to provide library service that suits their unique needs and interests.

Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.

I work closely with my colleague who is the Adult Community Engagement Librarian. He and I share very similar perspectives on the importance of social capital and targeted community building initiatives, so we worked together to pull research from the social sciences to apply to our work as librarians. We used this research to write a Mission, Vision, and Values for Community Engagement at the Shaker Library, a document which describes our overall goals for our work. Much like an organizational MVV statement, this document helps us direct our activities to engage our community in as meaningful a way as possible.

In a nutshell, our top 3 priorities as “community engagers” are:

  1. Building community
  2. Partnerships
  3. Community-responsive library service

In action, this often looks like my colleague and I attending as many community meetings as we can in order to connect with residents and develop strong relationships within our neighborhoods. These meetings also provide us an opportunity to learn about the issues our residents perceive as the most pressing and look for ways to help them* address those issues. Often new connections arise organically from these conversations, helping us expand our understanding of the assets available in Shaker Heights.

*I emphasize “help them” because in my experience, the most meaningful programs and services are brought about through working alongside community members. Instead of deciding what the community might need or like and putting a program together, helping our residents pull together something they do want produces significantly better outcomes. They’re more invested in the program being a success, they’ll bring out their friends and family, and in working on the program they’ll develop leadership skills that will serve them well as community leaders. Likewise, collaborating with partners allows us to reach a wider audience and share resources to provide more effective and accessible services.

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Librarians worked alongside school officials and community members to create a conversation around the All American Boys visit from authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

We had the opportunity to present our work at the PLA conference last year in a talk titled Building Meaningful Relationships Through Community Engagement. With another year of experience under our belts, we’ll be presenting at the Ohio Library Council’s Community Engagement conference in May.

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

Slow, but steady. We’re lucky to have an administration that has been focused on Community Engagement since the term started to become popular in library circles. We’ve had an Early Literacy Specialist for 30+ years, a full-time position whose main activities involve providing story times and lending books to area preschools and daycares. We also have a PR Coordinator and a Local History Librarian who work constantly with community partners. And then, in the past few years, the Adult and Youth Community Engagement Librarian positions were created out of existing librarian positions. All 5 of these people meet monthly as a Community Engagement Team, and we keep in close contact about our activities outside the library. We also work together on large or long-term projects that require involvement from multiple departments.

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SHFD shows off a truck to local kids at the library

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

Relationships are so rewarding, but also hard work, and navigating communication among two larger organizations working together can be a challenge.

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

I guess I actually answered this at length above (oops!), but I am working on a couple of long-term projects right now. One of  the biggest projects I’m working on is grant-funded. In order to support the outreach work of our Early Literacy Specialist, we secured an LSTA Competitive Grant from the State Library of Ohio to develop an Early Literacy Outreach Collection. This collection will live in storage and circulate only to local preschool and daycare classrooms. Currently, the Early Literacy Specialist visits around 45 classrooms regularly, and she may loan up to 600 books at a time, pulled from the regular circulating collection. Many (if not most) of the children she visits in these classrooms are black, but due to the underrepresentation of people of color in children’s literature, our librarians have a hard time keeping enough diverse titles on the shelves, let alone stocking enough to send diverse books to each classroom we visit.

There is a known and oft-discussed “achievement gap” within our public schools, wherein students of color or of economic disadvantage achieve lower scores overall than their more privileged peers. Kindergarten readiness numbers reflect that this gap begins in the preliteracy skills, despite the fact that 89% of all children in Shaker attend a preschool. Inequity abounds. Having a dedicated collection for circulating to classrooms will allow the Early Literacy Specialist to provide tailored collections to support our local early childhood centers’ curricula, as well as allowing her to provide more diverse books for our local children to enjoy. It is our hope that a more tailored collection will promote print motivation across the board for our youngest students and help more of these children acquire the skills that will make them ready for kindergarten. The project itself will take about 9 months to complete and involves teamwork from many library departments: Youth Services, Page Services, PR, Technical Services. It’s a lot of work but very exciting to be creating this new resource to serve children in Shaker.

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Maggie (left) at a community event with local leader Joanne Federman, Executive Director of Family Connections

 

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

Lots of schools in the Greater Cleveland area have created positions to focus on Family and Community Engagement. We work closely with the FACE department at our local schools, and the FACE Coordinator Keith Langford is active in a larger network of family engagers. They organize events, help PTO groups mobilize, and work with many partners to develop robust programming for students in the schools. They even organized a national Family and Community Engagement Conference here in Cleveland last year that was a great success.

Preaching Motivation

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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:

References

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.

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: cleveland.com

Source: Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com

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.

Meet Emily Jack, UNC Chapel Hill

Today we welcome Emily Jack from UNC Chapel Hill! Enjoy ~Laura

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

I’m Emily Jack, the Community Engagement Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I took a winding path to get here, with previous positions at a K-12 outreach program (that is sadly now defunct), and in a small museum of North Carolina history in the UNC special collections library. One consistent element of my previous work has been my passion for and commitment to outreach. I’m thrilled to finally have “community engagement” in my title, because it is, in my opinion, the most exciting and important work cultural heritage institutions do.

Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.

I’m inspired by the work of Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History and author of The Participatory Museum and The Art of Relevance. The latter book emphasizes that outreach has to be more than opening the door wider and inviting everyone to come in. We need to think more critically about the trade-offs people make when they choose to come to our institutions in terms of their time and attention. If we’re not offering them relevant experiences, why would people bother? I try to view all of my community engagement work through the lens of relevance.

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

For every program or service we consider, I examine it in light of two questions: 1) Who is the audience for this? 2) Why would they care? If we don’t have good answers to those two questions, it’s usually time to go back to the drawing board.

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

I wouldn’t say this has been a transition at my library. As service organizations, libraries have always been externally focused (at least in their modern incarnations). The library may not have always used the words “community engagement” to describe this work, but it’s always been happening to some degree.

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

I want everyone to love the library and to have meaningful experiences there. But given staffing and budget constraints, that’s an impossible goal. As a result, I tend to take on far more projects than I reasonably have time for and end up overloaded with work.

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

Most of the librarians I know chose this field because they’re passionate about the service aspect of librarianship. Community engagement work provides a very direct experience of that element of librarianship, which makes it very fulfilling.

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

First, to give everyone a reason to love the library.

Second, to find better work-life balance.

Those two goals are in constant tension with each other.

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

Melody Kramer at the Wikimedia Foundation. She’s brilliant at thinking strategically about attracting new audiences.

Meet the CE Librarians of UT Health

Today we welcome a whole team of community engagement library folk to the ELC! Enjoy! ~Laura

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

I am Karen Barton, Liaison to the School of Health Professions and Community Engagement Librarian at UT Health San Antonio’s Dolph Briscoe, Jr. Library. I worked as a youth services librarian in public libraries for two and a half years before coming to UT Health. In my new role as a medical academic librarian, I have used my community outreach experience and skills to create and implement outreach projects for youth and adults that promote health literacy and health information literacy. These projects have included a health fair for local kinship care families and health information resources in the form of calendars and recipe booklets for kids and teens.

My name is Peg Seger and I am Head of Outreach and Community Engagement at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas (UT Health) where I have worked for 8 years. When I first came to UT Health, I was the Outreach and ILL Librarian. Over the years my role has expanded and I now lead both community and campus outreach and engagement efforts as well as manage a branch library at the UT Health Laredo Regional Campus.

My name is Kirsten Lorenzen. I’m an Outreach and Community Engagement Library at UT Health San Antonio. I’ve been in this position for about a year and half; previously I worked as a children’s librarian for the San Antonio Public Library. Before I became a librarian, I worked in marketing for about 3 years in Los Angeles. I love that in my current position I’m able to combine my role as a librarian with my previous experience in marketing to better promote the library’s services and engage our community.

Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.

We have two audiences: the campus community and the broader San Antonio community. In working with both, community engagement starts with understanding the community. We work to create a two-way street of communication by recognizing their wants and needs and approach each of our target audiences in a way that really speaks to them individually. We may find campus and community partners who work directly with and know the target audience and always work to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships. They are beneficial to us in that we achieve the mission of the library and our institution as a whole.

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

We survey the campus community quite a bit at Briscoe Library for things such as library renovations and acquisitions for our collection. We also host activities in the library that demonstrate our commitment to engagement. Two examples of activities include “building” a Before I Die wall in our library entry foyer and creating a Student Appreciation Week. Also, we often have tables at health fairs and other community events where we can have conversations with members of the broader San Antonio community.

In creating the UT Healthier Youth Recipe and Resource Booklet, we solicited feedback from teens on the content. Our library has expanded its reach to our youth audience by partnering with a local school district, a public library system, students in a Community Service Learning program, a campus youth group, a teen clinic, and others. As part of the San Antonio Health Literacy Initiative and Bexar Translational Advisory Board (TAB), we are able to learn from medical and other professionals about the needs of the community and build and maintain partnerships with various stakeholders.

Over the past couple of years our library has established a messaging campaign primarily for our campus audiences to promote our new 24/7 hours, renovations, and more. Through this campaign, we have expanded our reach through social media and also applied lessons learned to work we do with community groups. One area of outreach that Kirsten has really focused on since she’s been at Briscoe Library is expanding our social media presence. She’s used her philosophy of understanding the community to really target our audience with various social media posts. Every time she posts something on one of our accounts, she thinks about who she’s trying to reach, the message she’s trying to get across, and how our followers will interact with the post.

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

Actually, it has been the other way around in some respects. Our library has traditionally had a strong external focus through community outreach programming since the late 1980s. As a part of a designated Hispanic Serving Institution, the UT Health San Antonio Libraries have been providing health information outreach services to South Texas as a Resource Library of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) in the South Central Region. Due to this designation, we are open to the public and promote National Library of Medicine and other health-related resources. Our program has been considered to be historically significant. While there has always been an emphasis on serving our (internal) student populations as well, much of the greater unfolding of that focus has come through our annual messaging campaign over the past couple of years.

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

There are a few to be sure! We probably have many of the same ones that everyone else has. Funding has not always been readily available for community engagement activities. In addition to coming up with sufficient money and time to devote to the work, internal staff adaptation for engagement for the campus community can take a while. The outward turning efforts are not always seen as important or necessary to all staff. Due to this, we have made sure to openly communicate about what we are doing and why, to involve all library staff in some way, and to make it fun. Although the library itself is very supportive of our overall community engagement efforts, some of the challenges have come from getting external stakeholders to understand or recognize the importance of the library’s involvement with this type of action.

Kirsten Lorenzen, Karen Barton, and Peg Seger, of UT Health

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

Librarians are service-oriented and we are constantly building awareness, providing those we service with information and tools that could benefit them in some way. We believe that should be the end goal of meaningful community engagement.

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

Our long-term goals include relationship building and making an impact on student success and community health. In regards to community health, the NNLM has provided grant funding for many of our community outreach projects and we would like to continue to take advantage of this funding to create and sustain projects that could have great and long-lasting impact.

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

Other institutional groups with which we work and who are important to our engagement efforts include: Area Health Education Centers, Bexar TABS (Translational Advisory Boards), CTSA Community Engagement, Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics Community Service Learning. The San Antonio Food Bank and the Witte Museum also have a variety of community outreach programs.

Links & more: