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Sister City Exchange

Indianapolis Public Library, IN
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Innovation Summary

The Sister Cities program leverages Indianapolis’s official ties to partner cities worldwide, bridging cultures and creating global awareness in Library patrons. The program features staff exchanges, cultural displays, presentations and One Book, One City reading program tie-ins. Through the program, the Library and community learn the value of cross-cultural communication.

Problem Statement

As a city characterized by its Midwestern roots and perspective, there is a need for Indianapolis to look outward to foster appreciation of family heritage, cross-cultural connections with the local immigrant community and understanding of the larger global community. The city of Indianapolis and its Sister Cities International program has ties to eight global cities. By creating a collaborative, companion program through the Library, community residents can personally access these international partnerships, gaining greater global perspective of a new culture through Library materials, activities and displays. For many participants, the Library display is as close to a Sister City as they will ever get. Over eight years, the collaborative program will spotlight all eight Sister Cities. Each partnership may include a staff exchange (an Indianapolis librarian visiting the Sister City and a Sister City librarian visiting Indianapolis) and a materials exchange to create displays about the Sister City’s heritage and culture at Indianapolis libraries. As part of the exchange with this year’s Sister City (Cologne, Germany), the program is planning to adapt the One Book, One City reading program to One Book, Two Cities. Residents in both Indianapolis and Cologne may read a work by Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut. Library displays may highlight the works of his Cologne contemporary Heinrich Boll. The Sister Cities partnership creates cultural commonalities and conversations for all participants.


Combining the Sister Cities cultural exchange program with the One Book, One City concept provides a unique and multi-faceted program for global engagement. It has made the Library a key partner in strengthening bonds between Indianapolis and its eight Sister Cities, as well as solidifying the relationship between the city and the Library as they work toward a common purpose. While the Library has long been a place for cultural discovery and appreciation, the Sister City exchange program moves it to a deeper level. The librarians who visit other countries create digital conversations with patrons through blogs, posting photos and cultural observations as they travel. Upon returning they also discuss with fellow service providers new methods to tackle Library processes they witness while abroad. In addition, exchanging materials like popular novels and history books provides opportunities for patrons to interact personally with another culture. Key to success of this innovative program is the partnership between the Library, the Indianapolis Sister City committee for each location and their counterparts in the Sister City. Months are spent in collaborative planning to ensure the goals for all stakeholder groups are met, including building partnerships for sharing Library best practices for visiting staff and establishing deep cultural exchange. For the program to succeed, understanding the cross-cultural communication preferences has been paramount for creating meaningful experiences for visiting staff that then are shared with the public. In all aspects of the program – providing materials, participating in the staff exchange, building displays and public programs – good communication helps the Library truly share the Sister City with the public.


Two Sister City exchanges have occurred so far: one with Hangzhou, China and a second in progress with Cologne, Germany. The Library plans to continue the program to include all eight existing Sister Cities. The following results were achieved through the initial exchange with Hangzhou, China: --The Indianapolis librarians who visited Hangzhou reported the exchange to be valuable and provided new perspectives on how library services are provided in other places. --400 visitors attended the Sister City Hangzhou Celebration program and more than 194,000 viewed the cultural displays at Central Library. --The Library Board president attended a library conference in Hangzhou. For the 2013 exchange with Cologne, Germany, and the One Book, Two Cities program, the following results are anticipated: --The book read in Indianapolis will be checked out at least 2,000 times. --At least 200 people will view or participate in the online discussion of the featured book. --30,000 people will view the Cologne cultural exhibit at Central Library. --More than 1,000 people will attend the German arts and culture workshops in the branches and at Central Library. • At least 15 news items and spots will cover the reading campaign and related activities. Blogs detailing the travels of the librarians participating in the cultural exchanges continue to receive daily traffic and have received more than 9,300 hits combined. Additionally, the Library received Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's Leadership in Diversity Award, in part for the Sister City program and was named as a Sister City partner of the year.