Community Conversations: Just Getting Started
By: Shelby Friendshuh- WMPL Library Director
When I was first introduced to the Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries grant, an initiative of the American Library Association in collaboration with the Association for Rural & Small Libraries to assist small libraries in hosting a community conversation of their choosing, I immediately knew that our community could benefit from a discussion about local government and civic engagement. Osceola, WI is an active community full of individuals that go out of their way to volunteer at and support events and programs. I wanted to explore how we can better communicate the ongoing issues at the municipal level and how we can support and encourage our residents in their civic engagements. Ultimately, the library was awarded the grant and we held our community conversation on October 26, 2021 with 10 attendees from varying backgrounds and experience in local government and community involvement. The connecting factor that led to such a productive conversation was that each and every participant cares deeply about this community and wishes to see it thrive.
The conversation began with a discussion about the basics of operations at the municipal level such as how meeting notices are posted, how agenda items are developed, and what the organizational structure of the village looks like. This organizational chart was provided by Village Administrator, Benjamin Krumenauer, and was specifically mentioned by multiple attendees as helpful. Discussions quickly revolved around things the Village and other departments do to increase transparency and ease-of-access to valuable information before evolving into a brainstorming session of sorts!
Ideas about innovative use of the Village and other department’s websites began circulating in the group including an FAQ page that is specific to the Village of Osceola, a community calendar in which different departments and organizations can enter information for their meetings and events, and further ideas for programs that the library can host like a local government 101 and youtube videos about all of the committees in the municipality. Ultimately, this brainstorming session was encouraging and exciting. Village representatives, staff, and community members alike took notes and excitedly shared their thoughts and ideas.
Before the conversation wrapped up, the group began discussing what an active and involved community we have in Osceola. This creates both benefits and challenges for us as organizers. Attendees mentioned that individuals who are active in community events are stretched thin and many events take place at the same time. We asked “how can we organize events to be more streamlined for all of our very active community members?” Additionally, so many individuals in Osceola are dedicated citizens that volunteer for events and with organizations and we wondered how we can streamline that process as well. Though answers may not have been readily available, it was clear that all in attendance are dedicated to discovering solutions to these bigger, community-wide questions.
As the conversation ended the atmosphere of the room was clearly energized and positive; multiple attendees could be seen after in the hallway continuing these discussions. The result was clear– conversations between caring and truly dedicated community members, from many walks of life, is a breeding ground for ideas and meaningful change. The library’s next step is to develop our next conversation that we hope to hold early in the new year. With input from community members, previous conversation attendees, and village representatives we will choose a topic and spread it widely. Thank you to the ALA and the Association for Rural & Small Libraries for the opportunity to hold this conversation and helping to energize and activate our community members! I am confident that continued conversations like this will lead to a more involved, informed, and inspired community.
WMPL Library Director