The Hartford (Conn.) Public Library has a long history with community engagement; it regularly sponsors community dialogues and youth forums. So after learning residents from a disadvantaged neighborhood felt underserved and misrepresented, the library jumped at the chance to strengthen the neighborhood’s bond to the rest of the city. Hartford’s North End consists of a group of neighborhoods with some of the lowest income levels in the United States. To learn more about the community, the library hosted a series of small “kitchen table-style” conversations in the area. Instead of starting the conversations with a list of problems, staff members asked North End residents how they envision their ideal community.
“That became a very, very powerful tool because it allowed people to dream and imagine a situation for them and their families,” said Matt Poland, former director of the Hartford Public Library.
From the discussions, the library learned some residents were concerned with public safety and lacked trust in the police department. Library staff reached out to police officers and hosted “deeper dive” sessions, small groups that invited police lieutenants and North End residents to discuss specific topics.
North End residents also said they were concerned about media representation; many good things were happening in the neighborhoods that received little media attention, while negative events were emphasized. To change this narrative, the group invited a local columnist to talk with residents about how to get their positive stories out into the world. As a result, North End residents began sending story pitches to Hartford media outlets.