Urban Libraries Council Forum 2016: Getting to the Evidence

By Amber Mathewson

On October 5–7, I attended the ULC Forum 2016: Getting to the Evidence in Kansas City. Urban Libraries Council forums tend to be really well done events that generally focus on one topic. Prior to the conference, attendees were asked to select a program or service that they currently had in progress and use the following definitions:

Program/Service—what the library does

Inputs—resources the library devotes to the program/service

Outputs—what the library produces

Outcomes—a beneficial change that occurs because of the library’s program/service…what will be different; what we work for

Impacts—long-term or indirect positive effects of the outcomes; what we hope for

Libraries always do a great job of planning and executing programs, but we sometimes forget to evaluate, and more importantly, to start with our desired outcomes or the “why.” We spent a lot of time talking about the importance of telling the stories of our successes and to highlight the outcomes. There were some tremendous keynote speakers as well as a lot of opportunities to share with other organizational leaders, and of course, the distribution of the year’s innovation awards.

We heard from Deborah Fallows, who is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. Deborah has traveled over 54,000 miles throughout the United States asking the question, “can America pull itself together again?” During her travels, she visited libraries to find the “truths” about libraries. In her article, “The Library Card,” she talks about her trip and the essential role that libraries play in technology, education and community. She even visited the Ajo, Arizona, Library, part of the Pima County Public Library system!

We heard from community leaders about what is important to tell them when looking to them for support, as well as determining Return On Investment (ROI) for libraries (and if it matters). We also heard from library leaders who have done a good job in communicating the value of their libraries to their communities and how that has helped position them for funding and support.

We heard from Laura Packer, a storyteller and writer who shared the neuroscience in storytelling and the changes that personal, first-person accounts make in the human brain. During this session, we saw some great examples of stories embedded with statistics.

We heard from Lucie A. Faulknor and Dawn Logsdon from Serendipity Films, who are working on a feature-length documentary on Libraries called Free for All. This will likely be something we will all want to see when it is finished. The video segments in the above link will give you a taste of what is to come!

We heard about a lot of great library programs that are happening around the nation and had the opportunity to see the awards of the 2016 Top Innovators! A special shout out to The Eureka Loft of Scottsdale Public Library, which received an honorable mention—congratulations!

The big take away for me was: don’t forget to tell your library story—the stories that are written in the lives of your patrons every day make a difference—Because of You!

Some suggested reading:

Small Acts of Leadership, by G. Shawn Hunter

The Education of Kevin Powel: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood, by Kevin Powell

How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough

The Purpose-Based Library, by John Huber & Steven Potter

Visual Intelligence, by Amy Herman

Amber D. Mathewson is AzLA Past President and Deputy Director, Pima County Public Library.

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