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Team Spotlights

Wisconsin Libraries Transforming Communities (WLTC) program provides a pathway by which public library and community teams develop and establish sustainable partnerships. These partnerships highlight the vital role libraries play within a community and the importance of community engagement. The following articles are the results of the creative relationships and initiatives created by the WLTC 2020-21 cohort, libraries, and community organizations. The results of their work include a deeper level of understanding of and responsiveness to each partner’s needs and resources. Together, the groups are shaping one another’s evolution and helping to ensure Wisconsin libraries continue to serve at the forefront of equity and innovation within local communities.

Diverse Brodhead Partnerships Catalyze Powerful Connection Despite Pandemic
  • Angela Noel: Director, Brodhead Memorial Public Library
  • Sabrina Meichtry: Social Worker, Stateline Mental Health Services Team
  • Leah Langby: WLTC Coach, IFLS Library System

Team Brodhead credits the community conversations inspired by the WLTC program for its success in developing new ways to listen and hear residents’ needs extending well beyond the library itself. Team members, Angela Noel and Sabrina Meichtry, discovered community members wanted meaningful connection with local and state government, area organizations, and each other. Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, the WLTC Team designed a series of projects to do just that.

“Our community members care about community and want to be involved, but they need more options and opportunities,” Noel said. “We tried to pick projects that were achievable and benefited the most people. And we have other things on our bucket list that we’ll do to keep momentum going.”

The team initiated a series of activities with UW-Extension Green County to help participants better understand how government works. Virtual presentations focused on activities of varying levels of government and offered tips on finding and evaluating credible information. Attendees also spoke directly with state and federal government representatives in breakout rooms.

Members of Team Brodhead installing one of four communication boards at the local park
Members of Team Brodhead
install one of four
communication boards
at a local park.

Another project partnered Brodhead with local high school students to develop Cardinal Talks, 5 to 10-minute videos produced by the students and made available to the community. Cardinal Talks have featured the library, the town’s new aviation museum, and the middle school’s volunteer group TOOL (Team of Outstanding Leaders).

Hoping to connect more community members with the local parks, Team Brodhead contacted students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and arranged the creation of four communication boards. The boards were installed at four area parks and feature words in Spanish and English, as well as a non-verbal or picture representation, to better support understanding among area youth with a variety of communication needs.

According to Noel, one of the most helpful aspects of the WLTC program was the coaching component. Biweekly interactions with their coach, Leah Langby of the IFLS Library System, provided perspective outside of their immediate community that motivated the innovative direction of their projects and energized their work. 

Franklin Supports Youth Mental Health with Music, Multigenerational Mix
  • Laura Gravander: Teen Services and Outreach Librarian, Franklin Public Library
  • Lauren Gottlieb: Public Health Specialist, City of Franklin Health Department
  • Ellen Henry: Drug-Free Community Coalition Coordinator, City of Franklin Health Department
  • Ryan Claringbole: WLTC Coach, Monona Public Library

Polkas, 50s rock, and Bluegrass music in the air and library craft kits, tie-dye shirts, and surveys on hand, the Franklin WLTC team worked to bring generations of its community together. The team developed a series of summer concert events in Franklin Park to foster mental health and service awareness. Team members said being unable to gather during the pandemic brought more attention to community programming and its ability to gather sometimes disparate sectors of an entire community together.

Table Sponsors at Franklin Park Concert Series
Table sponsors at
Franklin Park Concert Series.

“The library is willing to support so many initiatives in the community,” said Ellen Henry, Drug-Free Community Coalition Coordinator for the City of Franklin Health Department. She noted Franklin Public Library’s ongoing work in strengthening health literacy and its ability to serve as a central gathering space, “It helps you get connected to community members who might otherwise be unreachable—not just adults. It’s children. It’s seniors. It’s teenagers. It’s all ages of all backgrounds."

The Franklin Public Library and the City of Franklin Health Department brought in a third partner, Volition Franklin, an organization that pulls together a wide variety of individuals and groups to prevent alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. Together they designed programs to further existing youth engagement in their organizations and to use the power of those relationships to confront difficult realities that factor into youth mental health and substance use. This summer, they sponsored tables at the series of five concerts made possible by Franklin Park Concerts, Inc. With the help of WLTC team efforts, multigenerational family attendance at the concerts soared.

Henry said the WLTC program helped Franklin team members better understand how important self-advocacy is in creating a successful and sustainable initiative. The WLTC program served as an opportunity to discover even more ways to continue working together, to enhance currently offered programming, and to engage the community more deeply in critical youth substance misuse prevention efforts.

Lake Geneva Expands Resources, Reduces Waste with Community Read
  • Emily Kornak: Director, Lake Geneva Public Library
  • Jill Rodriguez: Member; Rotary Club of Lake Geneva, City of Lake Geneva Avian Committee, Lakeshores Library System Board of Trustees
  • Kristen Anderson: WLTC Coach, WRLS Library System

Community members responded to Team Lake Geneva’s information-gathering initiatives, inspired by WLTC training, with resounding resolve, urging the team to design programming that addresses issues of environmental responsibility and ecological awareness. Conservation, water quality, and sustainability topped the list of concerns presented by survey and conversation respondents.

The town’s identity as a tourist destination can seemingly function at odds with resident values. Lake Geneva Public Library and community organizations, however, strive to balance the needs and expectations of both groups, addressing deeply rooted concerns, while making their municipality as welcoming as possible to visitors. In this case, those needs and expectations converged.

Woman holds books from community read project
Team Lake Geneva created
a community read project.

“It was interesting to see this topic rise locally and cross all kinds of demographic groups, as well as our resident, business, and visitor groups,” said Emily Kornak, Director of the Lake Geneva Public Library.  “Just knowing libraries are doing work like this is both inspiring and motivating, and we will keep pushing to see what we can do and how we can expand our presence and serve as a deeper resources in our community." 

Team Lake Geneva created a community read project based on the book Rethinking the Bins: Your Guide to Smart Recycling and Less Household Waste by Julia Goldstein. They purchased 75 signed copies to distribute to interested community members and in only a couple of weeks filed requests for most of them. The team also scheduled a Zoom presentation by the author with time for Q&A. A local city council member attended and followed up by scheduling a tour of the community’s waste management provider. The team also displayed the pages of picture books Outside In and We Are Water Protectors on stands along outdoor paths for families to enjoy during walks in Library Park.

Kornak credits WLTC organizers’ ability to adapt and shift to virtual trainings and meetings during a pandemic for her team’s focus and success. “I think this particular cohort, with its pandemic experiences and challenges, will be an especially resilient and adaptable one,” Kornak said. “I think we’ve all seen new aspects of how libraries are important and gathered some new ideas of how we can support our communities, and Wisconsin librarianship will definitely be stronger for this work.”

Monona Public Art Project Gives Visibility, Voice to Lived Experience
  • Jenna Assmus: Adult Services Coordinator, Monona Public Library
  • Mark Buffat: Member, Monona Sustainability Committee
  • Jennifer Fait: WLTC Coach, Milwaukee Public Library

Seeking to support healthy community discourse during a time of intense political division and local disconnect due to COVID-19, Jenna Assmus and Mark Buffat joined forces to create a visible representation of unity within diversity. The UNITY project, created by artist Nancy Belmont and hosted in more than 48 states and 32 countries across the globe, is an interactive public art project designed to raise awareness of how identifiers such as “I’m a parent,” “I identify as LGBTQ+,” “I speak English as a second language,” and more, shape our stories we tell about ourselves and our world.

UNITY project on display at Winnequah Park
Team Monona’s UNITY project
on display at Winnequah Park.

“As we moved through WLTC, we heard from our community that they missed larger community events and the natural crossing of paths in daily lives,” Assmus said. “This project was a beautiful fit." 

Monona joined forces with the Monona Parks and Recreation Department and Winnequah Park to install a circular arrangement of 32 poles labeled with identifiers, including a blank one allowing community members to add their own. Participants mapped their personal journeys on paper, drawing a line from one identifier to the next in their chosen order, and then contributed to the art piece by securing pink yarn to the poles as they shared on the map. Soon, the yarn formed a canopy of intersections displaying the unique experiences of community members, as well as the ways in which those experiences might overlap. Assmus said the project provided opportunities for spontaneous conversations with participants and passers-by and the chance to recognize and celebrate the fact that even if someone has the same identifiers, they likely took a different path.

Team Monona credits the 18-month WLTC program for continually adding new skill training and offering structures to build on them. According to Assmus, the longevity and design of the program kept them on a learning track with group support, allowing them to grow from learner more effectively to leader within their organizations. Moving forward, the library plans to build on conversations started during WLTC with a series of antiracism programming.

Plymouth Teen Leaders Inspire Community Action, Connection with New Advisory Board
  • Leslie Jochman: Director, Plymouth Public Library
  • Jane Brill: Director, Generations Intergenerational Center
  • Stephani Newby: Director of Community Education, Plymouth Joint School District
  • Jennifer Fait: WLTC Coach, Milwaukee Public Library

When a series of community conversations revealed Plymouth residents missed activities for ages 10-25, as well as input from young people themselves, the Plymouth Public Library, along with the Generations Adult Community Center and Plymouth School District Community Education and Recreation, set out to create an empowering space for teen ideas and leadership to develop into collective action and transformation. The Plymouth team established a Teen Advisory Board (TAB), a group designed to involve teens in community decision making and, in turn, to offer participants skill-building experiences and mentorships that would further energize and position them to reimagine their world.

“When we hosted community conversations with teens in April, it was telling that they felt like they haven’t had a voice in events and things going on in the community—or that they feel like some portions of the community don’t listen to them or need to be more open-minded,” Plymouth Public Library Director Leslie Jochman said. She emphasized the importance of “having this group together, getting their voices out there, and letting them feel heard and seeing what it creates."

Plymouth community members work on a children's mural for the local library.
Plymouth community members work on
a children's mural for the local library.

About 15 TAB members met regularly with team organization representatives, who helped the TAB members decide if an idea is feasible and which group should spearhead it. First among their projects helped the community with the “Return of the Walldogs” mural festival in August, which featured the addition of seven community building murals painted by artists from across the globe. Walldogs painted more than 20 murals in Plymouth when visiting a decade ago. This year, the TAB incorporated entertainment activities like an outdoor movie and carnival games to further engage community members. The event also featured a children’s mural that gave youth the opportunity to paint art to be installed in the library. Team Plymouth hopes teens learned practical skills during the process, like how to obtain a permit for street closure. WLTC’s support—from training on facilitating community conversations to meetings that provided the opportunity for relationship-building among team members—was crucial to the TAB’s success. Jochman noted WLTC’s long-term impact, too, as the program’s teams and coaches shared their training within their library systems. The library does not need to stay in the building, she reminds us, but should be embedded within the community through collaboration and resource sharing.

Richland Center Discovers New Direction, Perspective through Project Process
  • Martha Bauer: Director, Brewer Public Library
  • Stacy Pilla: Youth Services Librarian, Brewer Public Library
  • Chelsea Wunnicke: Educator, Richland County Extension
  • Bruce Gay: WLTC Coach, Waukesha Public Library

WLTC’s Team Richland Center demonstrated twists and turns can inform a project and teamwork in surprising and previously unimaginable ways, opening a pathway of possibilities and promise. Their process, while unexpected, ultimately instilled in the team important awareness of community and partnership strengths and resources. They feel their future direction seems clearer than ever.

“The library strives to be a leader and trendsetter in the community,” Brewer Public Library Director Martha Bauer said. “Our project is integral in helping the community be more welcoming to new residents, especially minority populations. If the library can take the lead in this area and create the change we hope to see, then we’ve moved the library forward and created a better community for all residents.”

The Richland Center team began by initiating an equity, diversity, and inclusion taskforce that designed a survey for local elected officials to help determine the level of interest in learning more about those realities among area leaders. The team had planned to connect with the Hispanic community to create a photovoice project to amplify Hispanic community members’ voices and document their lives in Richland County. The Richland Center team’s experiences through that work, however, shed light in new and helpful ways on the relationship-building that needed to take place first. So, team members refocused and turned their efforts to establishing strong connections with members of the Hispanic community. With new knowledge in hand, they are creatively revisioning ways they can connect and achieve their overarching goal of making Richland County more welcoming to new residents, especially those who have been underserved.

“I think WLTC strengthens Wisconsin librarianship in that it gave participants valuable information and tools to better support our communities,” Bauer said. “The connections made during WLTC will allow us to continue this work and create a ripple effect into the community to create the change we are working towards.” Bauer credited the tips and guidance WLTC provided as a vital factor in helping them navigate their project in order to make it as meaningful and relevant as possible to those they serve.

Waukesha Teamwork Cultivates Deep Listening, Outward Thinking
  • Kerry Pinkner: Community Engagement Manager, Waukesha Public Library
  • Amanda Medina-Roddy: Board Member, School District of Waukesha
  • Julie Valadez: Member, Hispanic Collaborative Network
  • Adriana McCleer : WLTC Coach, Appleton Public Library

Team Waukesha’s most enduring program participation lessons arrived, not out of an adherence to a rigid plan, but from being available to an unfolding and, sometimes, unpredictable process. Ready to jump into action and solve problems, the team learned quickly to step back, listen deeply, and focus on relationship.

“Slow down, take a deep breath, and be open to what might happen,” said Waukesha Public Library Community Engagement Manager Pinkner. “It was very important to sit back and let the process happen. It’s getting us to think in a different way.”

Team Waukesha set out to present a virtual event on implicit bias and distribute a toolkit designed to help people continue conversations in their workplace and within the community. They also planned to host a book discussion. Responding to community concern about a lack of safe spaces, team members determined that through it all the library would remain a neutral place and serve as a connector for people and organizations. The pandemic, however, forced plans to be placed on hold. With the help of their coach, members learned to view the delay as an opportunity to develop outward thinking and strengthen the team’s partnership so they will be even more ready to engage their objectives when the timing is right. Pinkner credited the range of topics WLTC covered —including project management, diversity, equity, and inclusion—for making such flexibility and perseverance possible.

Team Waukesha is also passionate about serving the Latinx community and hopes to incorporate related concerns identified in their community conversations, such as the lack of healthcare resources for Spanish-speaking families, into their evolving project. For now, Pinkner emphasized the importance of timing. “Through our 18 months with WLTC we continued to grow our relationship,” she said. “We’ll continue this strong relationship once everybody’s ready, and we’ll continue to do really good things within the community.  Pinker added having the chance to slow down and let everything sink in helped her realize so many pieces are naturally coming together, and she values this opportunity.

For questions about this information, contact Beth Tomev (608) 266-7410