Douglas County Libraries has been trying something new. We call it "the community interview." In brief, a group of librarians identified some 30-50 …
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Douglas County Libraries has been trying something new. We call
it "the community interview." In brief, a group of librarians
identified some 30-50 community leaders around the county
(government, business, non-profits, and faith-based), then met with
them to ask three questions:
What are the key concerns of your constituents over the next one
to two years?
What do you wish you knew to help you make good decisions about
those issues in this next year or two?
Who else should we talk to?
Why did we choose interviews rather than surveys? It's true that
interviews may not be quite as statistically significant as a
On the other hand, people who occupy positions of leadership,
whether elected, appointed, or assumed, by necessity spend a lot of
time talking to other people.
And what humans do by nature is seek patterns. Leaders, by
sifting through many other sources of information, become an
information source in themselves. What's even more important is
that they make meaning; they find the pattern in the data.
Why were we doing this at all? There are two reasons.
First, having a solid grasp of what's going on in the community
helps the library to plan better. Every institution exists within a
larger social environment. Identifying some of the movers and
shakers in Douglas County and gleaning their insights helps us
anticipate what people might look to us for.
Second, librarians have long responded to our patrons' needs on
an individual basis. But might there be something we could do to
help the community at large?
Are there ways in which the library can add value by helping to
clarify the bigger picture?
We've completed most of our interviews, and met with one another
recently to try to make sense of the findings. Three main concerns
came up over and over:
Economic recovery. Concerns ranged from individuals looking for
work or worried about foreclosures, to small business owners
wondering how best to survive or even thrive during a
Water. There's a lot of anxiety about our relationship with this
fundamental natural resource. There's a lot of confusion, too.
Different communities have different concerns: Highlands Ranch is
not Parker is not Castle Rock. But everyone senses that water will
have a lot to do with the future of our county, and that a lot of
money is going to change hands. One municipal leader quoted an old
Western proverb: "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for
Civic engagement. At first, many of our leaders made it sound
like the problem was one-way communication. How do we let people
know what's going on? But upon probing, it was clear that the issue
was deeper. As one pastor put it, the many smart people who have
moved to Douglas County (mostly from far away) clearly exhibit most
of the signs of grief. They are a separate people, disconnected
from deeper webs of friendship and social connection. They go
"home" for vacation.
Politics, at least as currently practiced, seems more about
further fracturing our communities than about bringing them
together. But the thirst for community is real.
Over the next several months, the library will be further
summarizing our findings, and assembling some resources to better
inform our residents about the issues they say matter most to
Many thanks to all our gracious interviewees. Thanks as well to
the librarians who found the experiment so rewarding.
Jamie LaRue is director of Douglas County Libraries. LaRue's
Views are his own.
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