Community Learning Process

To inform our strategic planning goals, we completed four major learning and engagement efforts between March and May 2018. Every neighborhood in Saint Paul and every library location was represented in this community learning effort.


Empathy Interviews

More than 50 Library staff members were trained in the process of conducting empathy interviews — an approach to finding out as much as possible about a person’s experience as a user of a space, a process, an objective, or an environment. Empathy interviews aim to understand the choices that people make and why they make them.

These staff members conducted more than 400 empathy interviews with their colleagues, community members, and Library stakeholders. All 250 Library staff members had the opportunity to be interviewed by one another at the Library’s annual Staff Day in May 2018.

Questions included:

  • What excites you about coming to the Library?
  • What would it take to make the Library a regular part of your life?
  • How does learning happen in your community?
  • What keeps you from using the Library?

Community Pop-up Meetings

Young people from Juxtaposition Arts’ Tactical Urbanism Program hosted seven “community pop-ups” throughout Saint Paul. This program uses art, design, and other practices to amplify neighborhood voice, build community knowledge, and interrupt patterns of disinvestment. They met Saint Paul residents where they were — outside of library branches, on buses, at light rail stops, local festivals, and more — to gain their insights on the Library.


Public Listening Sessions

In late April and early May we hosted two public listening sessions at Rondo Community Library and Arlington Hills Library. These sessions featured fun, hands-on activities to elicit creative ideas and solutions for the Library. Participants built their dream libraries out of Play-doh and pipe cleaners, they created a mural, depicting their favorite things about the Library, and they engaged in talking circles with other members of the community, among other activities.


Online Survey

More than 1,600 Library users completed an online survey made available via the Library’s website and on public computers.


Ideation Sessions

When our community engagement sessions were complete, we set to work, distilling the data into a meaningful strategy that honored what we heard. We assembled an “ideation team,” comprised of Library staff members and stakeholders, that participated in a series of user-centered design exercises.

We created Library avatars, characters based on frequent Library users, to gain perspective on their needs, desires, and obstacles to library use. We then solved for these variables. We set idealistic “moonshot visions,” and then determined how close we could come.

Using Play-Doh, pipe cleaners, and craft supplies, we created 3D pathways to libraries of the future.

Through this, we identified common values, beliefs, and goals held within our communities. We gained perspective as to the challenges people face when using the Library and developed solutions to increase access and better serve our users. The experience shaped our Library mission, vision, and value statements and our strategic direction.

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