Wichita Public Library, KS
The Wichita Public Library has been working toward facility improvements since 2006, beginning with a plan for a new Central Library. Each time the project has seemed to gain momentum, a political issue has arisen to slow progress. The challenge has been to find a way to engage the community in conversation about its vision and future expectations of its public libraries. The opportunity that presented itself was to take advantage of the research and support of ULC and the Knight Foundation to create a demonstration project to test three different methods of seeking engagement to see how successful each can be - and to determine if using multiple channels of engagement will create even greater impact. While the primary motive of the Library is to create and test tools to engage citizens on issues relating to our organization, Activate Wichita has been deliberately designed as a forum broader than the library and city government. It is intended to be a tool that any community group struggling for ideas or feedback can use with a framework that is designed for sustainability in a variety of ways. It is our expectation that this activity will provide the final support needed to move the Central Library project from planning into design and implementation. We anticipate similar success stories for the other organizations that will take advantage of Activate Wichita.
The most important part of our learning process has been to distinguish between exchanging information with citizens and truly engaging them as partners in our thinking and decision-making. A second component is to involve non-traditional partners to help us expand our network reach into new parts of the community. For purposes of our project, we are working with a team of young creatives, our Downtown Development Corporation and the Young Professionals of Wichita, all new partners for our library. Our project tests engagement created in three ways: 1) through grass-roots activities built around our Friends of the Library's Geek the Library campaign; 2) through art by having young artists create and install library-related art in vacant storefront windows in our downtown area; and 3) through the Activate Wichita website developed on the MindMixer platform. The art installations involve three themes: 1) Literature is resilient; 2) the power of the public library and 3) visions of libraries of the future. Throughout the year, conversations about the library will appear on Activate Wichita. Topics will start broadly and over time narrow to more specific issues related to the proposed new Central Library. In addition to the library conversations there will always be at least one other non-library topic area being discussed, starting with challenges of drought and water conservation, to be followed by community planning, budget, aquatics programming, transit services and school facilities planning.
Anticipated outcomes include increased awareness about the importance of adequate public library facilities to best serve current and future needs of citizens, an increase in the number of citizens who become engaged in issues conversations and improved ratings of government services from citizens in the National Citizen Survey. In addition, we anticipate that creating new opportunities for engagement will create a greater sense of connectedness for citizens with the community.