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Team Spotlights

Learn more about the 12 teams in communities across our state who are part of Wisconsin Libraries Transforming Communities (WLTC), in their own words.

Kenosha

Zander Miller serves as the Digital Strategies Librarian at Kenosha Public Library, and Brandon Morris is the Manager of Community Engagement/College Career Readiness with the organization Building Our Future Kenosha County.

Q: What made you interested to be part of WLTC? How does it connect to your ongoing work in the community?

Zander Miller: I wanted to learn how I could create or facilitate community partnerships. It was not a skill I had before joining the program. My department at the library had not done well with building lasting, diverse partnerships throughout the Kenosha community, and we knew we wanted this to be a focus.

Brandon Morris: The Director of the Kenosha Public Library introduced this opportunity to me and just hearing the title alone it was a yes for me. I am passionate about my Kenosha community and any attempt for positive changes is always a plus. As a ninth grade student I was reading at a sixth grade reading level in the second month and now 15 years later a college graduate; I am an advocate for learning to read and reading to learn. Libraries have the best access to books as well as so much information to educate.

Q: How did your team decide to participate in WLTC?

Zander: I was introduced to Brandon by the KPL Library Director, Barb Brattin, in December of 2019. Brandon and I first met in January to see if we meshed well and could try joining WLTC. The library has been trying to increase its community engagement efforts for a few years, and I desired to improve my ability to engage with community partners, so this cohort was a natural fit for us.

Brandon: I was introduced to Zander by the KPL Library Director, Barb Brattin, in December of 2019. Zander and I first met in January to see if we meshed well and could try joining WLTC. The library has been trying to increase its community engagement efforts for a few years and again I am an advocate for engaging the community and libraries.

Q: Has your experience with WLTC so far led to any different perspectives or new interests in your work in the community?

Zander: Our community’s narrative has been driven by the advent of tragedy this past year. Covid-19 has driven a need for connection, structure, digital access, and spaces (both online and physical) where people can connect with each other. Children and adults' mental wellbeing has been a major focus and worry for Kenosha. The shooting of Jacob Blake was a tragedy waiting to happen. Community members were already trying to change how the city was in terms of racial equity since before George Floyd, and especially after Floyd’s death. After Jacob Blake, those efforts saw more fervor. The community needs to see racial equity on the docket for the city and county of Kenosha.

Brandon: Yes, our experience with WLTC has allowed for us to be more intentional about engaging with the community in real time. Originally when we joined WLTC, we didn’t anticipate Covid-19 (world pandemic) happening and the disparities it would boldly display. We didn’t anticipate Rayshard Brooks, Ahmad Aubry, Breonna Taylor, the 8 minutes and 46 second gruesome killing of George Floyd, the seven shots in the back of Jacob Blake right here in our hometown of Kenosha and the responses, the conversation, the movement it all generated throughout our community. I guess I would say WLTC could be considered a blessing in disguise because it is not something extra, it is a part of the work we do daily.

Q: What challenges are you experiencing in doing community engagement work?

Zander: We are having challenges with reach and retention. The virtual environment is not good for starting new programs, ideas, and meetings with the community. If we did not already have a connection with folks, it is difficult to form meaningful new ones. Particularly, we have trouble reaching out to our Hispanic community. Retaining engagement is also a challenge. It is difficult to retain networks without consistent wins and activities and other motivating forces.

Brandon: There are always going to be challenges in everything that we do, it just depends on the timing and the current events that take place. I feel like our team has the core values of being authentic, being adjustable and adaptable with our community that turns any challenge into opportunity. But I would have to strongly agree with everything Zander said.

Q: What are you looking forward to with your teamwork?

Zander: I most look forward to our ongoing connection. This is not work one organization or one person can do on their own, especially with a community of our size. We need to bounce ideas off each other. We need to break down how our various conversations are going and what’s going on in our individual organizations. The work we do takes time, and I’m not used to turn-around taking long periods to see fruit. Being consistent and supportive means a lot to me.

Brandon: I am looking forward to watching the growth of our project unfold, getting the chance to hear the different perspectives of our community members while shining a light on our Kenosha Public Libraries. It’s important to me to be intentional about our libraries being a community resource center. I look forward to attempting to replace Google with our Kenosha Public Libraries because our libraries have so much more to offer than Google. Lastly, I always look forward to sharing ideas, looking at the Pros and Cons, getting feedback from colleagues, community members and making adjustments to be the library that transforms communities forward, faster together.

Marinette & Forest County

Rebecca Livick is a branch librarian and Jennifer Thiele serves as director for the Marinette County Library Service. Also on the team is Samantha Smith, manager at the Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Center, Library, and Museum.

Q: What made you interested to be part of Wisconsin Libraries Transforming Communities (WLTC)? How does it connect to your ongoing work in the community?

Rebecca Livick: I first heard about the WLTC initiative through my director and teammate, Jennifer. As soon as I learned more about it, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the team. We’re working with Goodman, Wisconsin in Marinette County. Goodman is a very small community which is simultaneously aging, decreasing in economic security, and shedding population. It’s a beautiful area and a picturesque town that has obviously fallen on hard times. The people I’ve met are the nicest and most appreciative that I’ve ever met! Our library is open only 3 hours a week and many people in the community plan their schedules around it. If there was anything I could do or be a part of to help this town to first recover and then to grow, I wanted to be in the room.

Jennifer Thiele: When I heard about WLTC being based on the Harwood Institute model, I was very interested. I have been to several conferences where I’ve seen representatives speak about that community engagement model and how it pertained to libraries. Our libraries are so diverse in Marinette County, and rural areas often feel like they don’t have a voice in the larger conversation. This problem has been intensified by the lack of internet connectivity in these areas and the isolation of the COVID pandemic. I wanted to find a way to bring a rural community’s voice to the table because I think we are in a unique position to do so. Being a consolidated library system, we are able to offer more support to member libraries that otherwise might be on their own with only one part-time employee. So many of these standalone rural librarians are so involved with putting out fires every day. They don’t have the time to be able to participate in such a large project that needs to have such a commitment of resources. This is why so many of the rural libraries that can be a part of these type of initiatives are actually libraries bordering on large cities, and don’t really capture the true rural need or voice. I think Goodman public library branch is a true representation of that rural voice and it is critical that they are a part of this project. Also, we haven’t done much community work in these very rural areas and I think it was important that we started.

Q: How did your team decide to participate in WLTC?

Rebecca: I was in as soon as I knew it was an option for me!

Jennifer: My enthusiasm for the Goodman community was enhanced by the members of my team, who are like-minded advocates for the small and rural library. I had a unique asset in having a community member who had reached out to me about an upcoming school referendum. Sam [Samantha Smith] was interested in the library’s circulation and how that impacted the school and therefore the outlying community. This was a doorway to have the community connection we needed for the library system. Sam also partnered with us on advocacy for the library itself when the budget was cut. I knew this was a partnership that could benefit the library and the community. Rebecca was a newly hired branch librarian, and she has great ideas about how we could engage the Goodman community outside the walls of the library. If I didn’t already have this great team at the ready, I don’t know that I would’ve been able to apply for the program.

Q: Has your experience with WLTC so far led to any different perspectives or new interests in your work in the community?

Rebecca: I have learned so much about the Goodman area and the community that I’m overwhelmed! I’ve begun to forge new relationships both with the people and with some of the organizations who are also passionate about transforming the community.

Jennifer: I have learned about so many new programs and grants, particularly for rural broadband and access. The digital divide is especially prevalent in Goodman and that came through in the community conversations.

Q: What challenges are you experiencing in doing community engagement work?

Rebecca: The biggest and most obvious challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, which has made it difficult to reach out to and speak with people. As a part of that challenge, I’ve learned that there is some distrust of “outsiders”. I’m confident that with time and post-pandemic, we’ll be able to make more inroads with the people of the community.

Jennifer: The pandemic. It is very awkward to cold call people and without being able to meet with people inside the library, having true community conversations is challenging. With most of all gatherings canceled, it is hard to have organic conversations with people without being this strange outsider that is not really to be trusted.

Q: What are you looking forward to with your teamwork?

Rebecca: I’m definitely looking forward to the end of Covid! I think this work has helped us to build new relationships which I’m confident will become stronger and more powerful when we’re able to resume life in a new post-pandemic normal.

Jennifer: I am looking forward to having a project success that can benefit the entire community. It will be really nice to meet a community need head on.

Richland Center

Martha Bauer is the director of Brewer Public Library. The team also includes Stacy Pilla, youth services librarian, and Chelsea Wunnicke, a UW Extension educator in the Richland Center area.

Q: What made you interested to be part of Wisconsin Libraries Transforming Communities (WLTC)? How does it connect to your ongoing work in the community?

Martha Bauer: When I was first made aware of this training opportunity I was immediately interested and knew it would help me grow professionally as well as benefiting the library and community. I had hoped that if I got accepted into the training it would help shape future work of the library in making, and strengthening, connections in the community.

Q: How did your team decide to participate in WLTC?

I immediately thought of partnering with Chelsea when I considered this opportunity because we had collaborated before on some activities and hoped she would be interested in this opportunity as well. We decided it would be beneficial to apply and were accepted! Upon learning that we could invite a third team member I was excited to include our Youth Service Librarian, Stacy Pilla!

Q: Has your experience with WLTC so far led to any different perspectives or new interests in your work in the community?

Yes! Early on in this adventure there was interest in social justice issues, diversity, inclusion, and being a welcoming community and county. For me, the WLTC experience has initiated a culture shift as to how the library will interact with the community and provide services and resources. I aim to think outside the box more in an effort to better serve the community with accessibility, removing barriers, and inclusion in mind.

Q: What challenges are you experiencing in doing community engagement work?

Having participated in the WLTC experience during a pandemic, the biggest challenge has been communication. Brewer Library has been closed during this time and as such we have not been able to strike up conversations with patrons as we normally would when they are in the building. We have made phone calls and utilized virtual platforms to connect with community members, but there were still hurdles in communication. For instance, we hope to better connect with the growing Hispanic community and those conversations really would be most beneficial as an in-person meeting.

Q: What are you looking forward to with your teamwork?

I’m looking forward to seeing the work of our current initiatives as well as future endeavors, partnerships, and collaborations that stem from this experience and the work we’ve completed together. Personally, I feel I have a better understanding of community engagement and a desire to incorporate that work into the library staff, services, and resources to better meet the needs of our community.

Oregon

Kelly Allen is the Youth Services and Community Engagement Librarian at Oregon Public Library, and Amy Miller is the Oregon School District's Community Education and Recreation Director.

Q: What made you interested to be part of WLTC? How does it connect to your ongoing work in the community?

Kelly Allen: I loved being outside the library walls and doing outreach events. I wanted to be more effective in working with community organizations.

Amy Miller: Kelly asked me to join her team and I LOVE to work with Kelly! My job focuses on community outreach and engagement so this is a perfect fit!

Q: How did your team decide to participate in WLTC?

Kelly: I saw this intriguing opportunity come through my email. In many ways I was doing community engagement in my work and enjoyed it. I saw the WLTC project as a way to formalize my training and really hone my skills. I asked Amy because I work with her on a few community partnerships. She knows everyone in town or who you should ask!

Amy: Kelly reached out to me with an exciting opportunity to collaborate with her and her many friends in library land! We have worked together often in the past and we saw this as an opportunity to learn from the best and to work together to support a community project that would be identified through community engagement.

Q: Has your experience with WLTC so far led to any different perspectives or new interests in your work in the community?

Kelly: Prior to WLTC, I assumed the library would need to be a driving force behind any community project, from start to finish, that it is a participates in. That’s not necessarily true. The library can be the facilitator of community conversations and connector between organizations and community members. If the library hosts a community conversation and safety of a crosswalk at a busy interaction is what residents keeping talking about: fixing roads is not part of the library’s mission, but we can provide the space for people to discuss this issue. We can share the concerns of community members and give to our local or county agencies that deal with roads and traffic. Providing space and information are part of the library’s mission.

Amy: The idea of intentional community conversations was new to me. The format helped us to focus on identifying groups from across the community to ensure we were hearing from the many diverse voices in our community. A new perspective that was shared is one that I have up in my office on a post it note: “Build programs and services with the community, NOT for them.” That perspective is helping to drive our work in making sure we are listening to the needs and wants of our community.

Q: What challenges are you experiencing in doing community engagement work?

Kelly: The pandemic is our biggest challenge. Naturally, how to live and work in these times is a focus for everyone. We have been able to move some of the conversations to think more broadly about community issues.

Amy: COVID-19 has challenged our progress. From redesigning our jobs to finding times to have our community conversations has been difficult. From our community conversations, we learned that if we focus our conversations on aspirations for the future, we are gaining better insights into what our community wants and needs. In our early conversations, the challenges with COVID-19 were consistently the focus of each conversation. In those conversations, we focused on active listening including offering ideas to support their work during these challenging times. Learning from that experience, we have now moved to aspirational questions in our community conversations. With this change, we hope to better identify a meaningful and impactful community project.

Q: What are you looking forward to with your teamwork?

Kelly: We are seeing some common themes and I’m excited to start focusing on one to become our project. We had a small, quick win with our Fall Fitness and Wellness Challenge sponsored by the Oregon Area Wellness Coalition (OAWC). The Library and Community Education and Recreation are both members of OAWC, and Amy is the facilitator of the coalition. Community members wanted things to do outside of their homes and feel a part of a community, even at a distance. Our Fall Fitness and Wellness Challenge aimed to inspire healthy habits, freshen up your fitness routine, encourage you to try new things, stay consistent, get out in the community and be a supportive, healthy influence on others. There were three ways to play. The printable BINGO card and Goosechase app included a variety of activities - crafting, nutrition, exercise, sleep, helping others, and more. For those who only wanted to focus on exercise, we had the 50k quarantine option. Everyone who completed the challenge received a $5 gift card from a local business which was funded by Community Ed & Rec.

Amy: We are excited to continue our conversations and our learning with WLTC. We are beginning to see common themes in our community conversations. We are also hearing hope and excitement about the future of our community in our most recent conversations. We look forward to further defining our project including developing goals and a timeline to complete the project to better our community.