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Chief Douglass and the Central Resource Library
Johnson County Library, KS
Innovation SummaryThe Johnson County Library worked with administrative officials from the Overland Park Police Department to leverage political and community support for modernizing the Central Resource Library and building social capital in the Library’s surrounding neighborhood.
In early 2012, we at the Johnson County Library were beginning a building program to modernize and refurbish our 17 year old Central Resource Library. Working with HBM Architects to advise us on library trends and building layout, we planned to engage our public stakeholders in a conversation about what they wanted and expected from their Library. At the same time Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass was beginning to reach out to Overland Park’s increasingly vulnerable neighborhood surrounding the Central Library. We were struck by how perfectly Chief Douglass’ presentation to community leaders matched our experience of ongoing suburban decay in the library area. His detailed demographic analysis and relentless logic were extremely effective. But more moving was the passion with which he spoke of the human cost in allowing the market to play its course. His call for community involvement was stirring and exactly what we wanted our stakeholders to hear as we tried to help move our community forward. Working with Chief Douglass and the OPPD, we saw an opportunity to bring area politicians and opinion leaders, library staff and community together to improve the lives of people living in northern Overland Park.
On June 12th, a three day envisioning process called Future Focus brought more than 120 people to the Central Resource Library. In the audience were County Commissioners, area Kansas Legislators, the Overland Park City Council, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Overland Park Chamber of Commerce Boards of the Friends of the Library and the Johnson County Library Foundation, the Shawnee Mission Superintendent and administrators, the Arts Council of Johnson County and other Johnson County opinion leaders. Chief Douglass presented his studies of inner ring suburban decline and made the case that no amount of police strategy, programs or presence alone would stop the downward spiral of neighborhood disintegration. Only the grass roots work of homeowners associations, local merchants and the Library could build social capital and strengthen the social fabric of the neighborhood. Chief Douglass presented his studies of inner ring suburban decline and made the case that no amount of police strategy, programs or presence alone would stop the downward spiral of neighborhood disintegration. Only the grass roots work of homeowners associations, local merchants and the Library could build social capital and strengthen the social fabric of the neighborhood. The innovation here is not the message, but the messenger. The highest ranking police official in the largest city in Kansas: • Focused on the relationship between the Library, building social capital and halting neighborhood decline. • Sent a galvanizing message to politicians and business people that social decline has tough economic consequences for everyone • Established the Central Library as a Good Neighbor because of its commitment to social progress through access to information.
Throughout that day and the next two days, 157 community participants and leaders conversed in more than a dozen focus groups to determine how their Central Library should look moving into the future. Working with this information, HBM Associates designed the building plan which is now a $3.5 million dollar project on schedule to begin in 2015. In the meanwhile, money has been found for painting, carpeting and minor remodeling. A MakerSpace has been built for teens and local entrepreneurs. The immediate result is a cleaner, brighter and more energizing Central Library. The Library District Neighborhood Association was formed, meets regularly at the Central Library and engages with the Library in creative programming. This approach to community building design achieved its anticipated purpose of using high level police administration to focus area politicians and policy makers on short and long term needs for both the Central Library and the surrounding neighborhood. There’s just something about crime statistics and hard economic data which grabs the attention, especially when it’s delivered by the Chief of Police.