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Community Conversations for Families

Orange County Library System, FL

Innovation Summary

OCLS and the Florida Humanities Council developed this program designed to engage families and encourage the art of conversation. The series, led by a UCF Scholar and OCLS Storyteller, focused cultural diversity. Skill development, such as listening, reflecting, and sharing, in a safe environment, was critical to the overwhelming success.

Problem Statement

This program, loosely based on a program done by the New York Council for the Humanities, was focused on bringing families together and encouraging them to engage and learn how to have conversations on serious issues. How often have you been out and seen families at dinner and everyone is engaged in their own world, kids on mobile devices playing games and parents on their smart phones. There was a need we saw to help people engage in conversation. Making sure everyone had a chance to speak and was given the opportunity to be heard was critical to the program’s success. Technology was put away for and for an hour and a half people really shared. The participation ranged from old to young and from English to Spanish. The subject was serious, Cultural Diversity. In a community with a diverse population it was encouraging to share and understand was critical the challenges. Stories, such as My Name is Yoon, were used in the program as a jumping off point for conversation. Since the stories were not shared prior everyone engaged in listening to the story which served to help identify challenges, break the ice, and springboard the conversation. Individuals spoke about the story and their story. The focus of this effort was to learn from others, understand others and get to know our neighbors in an effort to build stronger communities.


This 3 week series was entirely designed by the OCLS team and the UCF scholar. Critical points to start included sharing: This is about conversation, not debate. This is a safe place to share. We do not have to agree but we have to respect the opinions of others. Rules of conversation require that we speak for ourselves. In this conversation we show respect for elders and children. Our purpose is to understand, get to know our neighbors, learn what is important, hear what others think and build our community. It worked as followed -Attendees, all of whom needed library cards arrived to the first two sessions and were offered a drink and light snack. At the last session there was an international potluck encouraging pride in our diversity -A “Library Commercial” was presented by staff at the beginning of each program providing information about additional resources as well as opportunities for learning and fun at the library. -Technology was put on hold/turned off -Younger children were given simultaneous programming so parents were free to focus. -Each session began with a directed ice-breaker where participants met and learned about each other -A book was shared that dealt with the challenge of being “different” -Questions were facilitated by Scholar and Storyteller -Almost all attendees participated and engaged -pre and post surveys about the library and library use were taken -Additional readings were offered to families to encourage conversation


After the initial program, several participants have seen and spoken with staff. They have attended other programs and classes. Most families recognize staff during their visits and inquire about additional program offerings at the library. Parents have indicated that since Community Conversations they are more engaged in dialog with their families and encourage conversations. This program ended in February 2013 and we are currently in the process of following up with families about their experiences. This email from one family expressed the best outcome of all: "I just wanted you to know Morgan has been making up recipes of her own since Wednesday night. Tonight watching "Ice Age Dinosaurs" for the first time Morgan started going into detail about what the symbols of the acorn was doing, such as when it was raining on the acorn and it looked like it was crying. I think the story time and going over the books really helped Morgan see more detail of the things she would have passed by before. Amanda, I was happy to see her finally getting involved answering questions and it does give confidence if you know your opinion is listened to and not criticized, she felt good afterwards. Joel and I also really enjoyed getting to know everyone better. This class did give us a better feel of the people around us. The types of people that sign up are hard working in whatever they do and care about improving their children's lives and hopefully themselves at the same time. The… "Community Conversations" class.. I think did do what was intended--which is to bring people together to learn. The more you learn, the better your life will be and the Library is a great place to do so. The ..family wants to say THANK YOU to everyone involved. Count us in if you do another class."