What kind of community do you want to live in? That was the question that Kitsap Regional Library asked at 65 community gatherings in 2016. A year of tuning in to the opinions, ideas, dreams, and goals of Kitsap County residents culminated in a information packed report, Our Stories. "We listened to your aspirations, your challenges, the changes you want to see in your community, and who you trust to make them happen." (Our Stories 2016) Using a method from the American Library Association called "Libraries Transforming Communities", KRL set out to learn what people want to see in their community. What resulted from this year-long study were findings that will help our entire community become more connected. We reached out to many groups across the Puget Sound to ensure that we were hearing opinions from people from all backgrounds, those who use the library and those who do not, and across many demographics. What all of the organizers of this effort began to see across all of the individual results were three interconnected themes. The people of Kitsap County want a community that is connected, engaged, and sustainable. From the Nollwood Apartment Community in West Bremerton to the Suquamish Tribe in North Kitsap, we found that everyone wants to be connected to each other and their community. 

Why would the Library spend time getting to know their community? The answer is clear: if we know what you value, we can better serve your needs. Our mission is to inspire our community to dream more, learn more, do more, and be more. The best way we can empower our community to reach their goals is first by knowing what those goals are. The Library is a powerful connecting force that can help guide you to resources, classes, one-on-one guidance from a librarian, and so much more; however, there is no way our mission would be possible without finding ways to help make our community feel welcome. 

The Community Assessment has renewed my sense of advocacy as a Teen Services Librarian. The Teen Advisory Board is a group of 20 teen volunteers in grades 7-12. They took part in one of the Community Conversations last year and shared similar concerns about wanting to feel connected and engaged. Serving as their Librarian, I constantly look for a way to connect needs with opportunities, which is deeply connected to my work with Teen Advisory Board and the Make Do Share program. This report also gives me more tools to work with our community partners and connect resources with the people I serve in Kitsap County. 

During Teen Tech Week, which took place March 5-11th, the teens were given the mission to focus on a big issue they care about and use technology to raise awareness or explore solutions. One of the teens from the group was concerned with how people are feeling disconnected and decided to do something about it. When asked about the project and how she made it, she stated that she  "learned how to blog on Wordpress, which is pretty cool because then I get to share all the stuff that I learned about with the community. I am putting together a blog about community resources that people can use to connect and communicate with each other, with their neighbors." This teen was inspired by the Community Report and made a difference by finding and sharing resources on the blog she made. She is still working on this project and she continues to find ways to help her peers connect. 

The report is the result of a large scale effort took us outside the walls of the Library to learn about Kitsap County in a meaningful way. Audrey Barbakoff, Adult Services Manager at Kitsap Regional Library, provided her insight on some of the surprises from the Community Conversations that she lead. She said the most inspiring moment was when she realized "how much of a difference it makes just to get people in a room and ask them big questions. Once a group of people had a chance to sit down together and identify a shared dream or challenge, they often jumped  into making plans for a better community right then and there." For some groups, this was the first time they had the chance to have everyone at a meeting. In housing communities, many of the residents did not know their neighbors. The meetings were an excellent venue to build trust between the individuals and made many realize that we have more in common than we thought. Audrey observed that our goals are similar across the county, "when we talked to people about their fundamental hopes and dreams, folks from all backgrounds told us the same things. They want to feel connected to each other and their neighbors. They want to know that they can make a difference in their community. And they want to live in a place that's vibrant - that can thrive without losing its roots."

When I asked how this all of the local information we gathered could be applied to the work we do at the Library, Audrey put it in perspective, "Whatever your dreams are, the library can connect you with resources to empower you to make the changes you want to see in your community."

You can read the entire report here at Our Stories: Kitsap County Community Assessment or www.krl.org/ourstories


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