A Library and Its Community Make a Collective Impact

We can say goodbye to a time when a community organization would operate as a sole provider to meet a community need. Today, numerous organizations are familiar with the concept of Collective Impact, a framework to tackle deep-rooted and complex social issues. When organizations partner with other organizations across a community, it has proven to have a more profound and longer-lasting impact on the community. 

One library, in particular, has shined in this aspect.

The Azusa City Library in Azusa, California, is committed to providing literacy services that allow adult learners to fulfill their full potential and live quality lives. 

A Community Initiative for ESL Classes

In 2013, Azusa City Library established Grassroots ESL, a library-led collaboration project that delivers ESL tutoring in small groups by trained volunteers. With a mission to serve nearly 25,000 residents living in the city who speak a language other than English, the project was invaluable. However, three years into the program, the participation of contributing programs waned, and Azusa City Library faced challenges as it was carrying out the majority of the workload.

In 2016, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded a Sparks! Ignition grant to the Azusa City Library to transform Grassroots ESL into a community-based partnership. With the grant, Azusa City Library had the opportunity to apply specific components of Collective Impact thinking to achieve a successful and more collaborative transformation. Some of these components include:

  • Common Agenda: All participants have a shared vision including a common understanding of the problem or issue and a joint approach through agreed upon activities and actions. 
  • Shared Measurement: Collect data and measure results consistently to ensure efforts are aligned, to share accountability, and to learn from and adjust as needed.
  • Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Activities may be different, however, they are aligned and coordinated through a mutually reinforced plan of action.
  • Continuous Communication: Consistent and open communication across all partners and participants to build trust, assure mutual objectives and methods, and create common motivation.
  • Backbone Support: Have a separate organization with staff and skills act as the coordinator and serve as a resource for the participating organizations and provide a central home for the entire initiative. 

Since the project launch in December 2016, Azusa City Library gained perspective as it transitioned from leading a group of local organizations to building an operative community partnership to provide ESL instruction. Its goal was finally met—Grassroots ESL was no longer the library’s program but was the community’s program with shared ownership and responsibility.

Developing an engaging and effective community partnership for a common cause isn’t always easy. For the full details on how Azusa City Library overcame its challenges with growing Grassroots ESL, read the white paper Moving from Collaboration to Partnership.

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