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County libraries get grant for innovation, partnerships

Thu., May 29, 2014, midnight

The Spokane County Library District has received a $50,000 grant from the American Library Association to help the district refine its mission, foster innovation and develop community partnerships.

Nancy Ledeboer, executive director of the library district, said it was a competitive grant process involving applications from 84 libraries across the country.

“They picked 10 and we were one of them,” Ledeboer said.

A five-member team from the library district has just returned from the initial Harwood Institute workshop in Denver. The Harwood Institute is conducting the training.

“It was a packed three days,” Ledeboer said. “We learned so much.”

The Harwood Institute coaches organizations on how to build strong community partnerships in ways that improve public discourse. It began working with the American Library Association two years ago, focusing on the library’s role in community building.

Founder and President Rich Harwood said this time around his organization was looking for libraries that are already doing good work.

“We were not looking for something that needed to be fixed,” Harwood said in a phone interview. “In the case of Spokane, there’s a pretty strong civic culture there to build on.”

Among the 10 libraries picked are Los Angeles Public Library, which serves 3.8 million people, and Red Hook Public Library in New York, which serves 1,900. Spokane County Library District serves 255,000.

The $50,000 includes an $8,000 cash grant and regular coaching sessions by Harwood Institute staff over the next 18 months.

“We are not consultants. This is not for us to develop a plan for the library,” Harwood said. “It’s the opposite. After the training is done there will still be innovators in the community.”

The Harwood Institute has worked with Goodwill Industries as well as public radio and TV stations across the country.

Ledeboer said the library district’s next step is to hold community conversations, beginning with one in Spokane Valley, as a way to define what the community needs.

And she hopes the library district will play a stronger role in community partnerships.

“You could build a community partnership perhaps around early childhood learning,” Ledeboer said. “And the library could perhaps take a leading role in such a coalition or help people get connected with each other.”



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