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CHAPTER 5 - A Path Forward: Three Projects for Access, Connection, and Education

Participants focused on what the Houston Public Library could do in partnership with local partners to advance recovery, rebuilding, and resurgence in the city. With an eye toward concrete and tactical projects that focus on meaningful collaboration, participants recommended the following projects to provide a path forward. Each of the proposals aligns with one or more of the service priority areas of the Houston Public Library (Access, Educate, Connect), and each gives particular attention to the needs of vulnerable populations in the city, aiming to expand equity and opportunity for all. Each proposed project includes the project goal, basic assumptions about existing conditions and constraints, and what changes are needed to make it happen. Each project also focuses on leveraging existing relationships and assets, and contemplates key results to be achieved.

Project 1: Create a total family literacy program employing a portfolio approach

Participants highlighted the need for a community-wide strategy, across all the sectors, to help the most vulnerable Houstonians navigate the system for recovery and rebuilding as well as for long-term success. This includes filling gaps in family services, child care, mental health services, case management, and home repair in the short term. It also includes developing more systematic, data-informed, outcomes-driven portfolio approaches to improving access to literacy and education, healthy living, and civic engagement opportunities for children and families. This project addresses the specific needs of children and families in Houston.

PROJECT GOAL. Building on the library’s current foundation for successful out-of-school and extended learning programs, the goal of this project is to advance these building blocks in ways that equip parents and children with additional services and supports they need to be successful. As envisioned, this would involve building a total family literacy program by taking components from existing programs and curricula and building on existing partnerships, especially involving early childhood partners and schools. The proposal cited the Houston Public Library’s successful 2017 Family Place program as a model and recommends investigating how to build on and replicate this model out to other locations.

BACKGROUND AND ASSUMPTIONS. Understanding what services are essential in different communities would require a needs assessment (utilizing existing assessments) and a reexamination of existing partnerships to identify whether new partnerships for service would be needed. This proposal emphasizes a highly intentional effort that first identifies neighborhoods lacking libraries (including school libraries), then leverages existing assets and resources accordingly, and finally finds the right places to provide additional resources for out-of-school extended learning which is particularly important for children of poverty and low means.

In presenting this project, participants noted the need to address operational funding as well as capital funding for rebuilding the community. It was assumed that institutional operational capacity would be compromised by financial and other demands of recovery and rebuilding, and that programs would grow as more funds become available. Thus, questions about the availability of operational funding in the near-term and beyond make it important to ensure that existing library programs are maximized to the greatest extent possible.

Finally, participants identified the opportunity to address human capital and sustainability needs for this project through a cadre of volunteers from Houston Community College and Houston’s many universities. One benefit of developing such partnerships around volunteer needs is the potential for developing sustainable relationships between the libraries, colleges, and universities into the future.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR IMPLEMENTATION. A key aspect of this project is using existing needs assessments to identify areas of greatest impact from the flooding and provide sustained extended learning opportunities for children and their families in these neighborhoods. The proposal emphasizes thinking strategically about creating this program so that stakeholders are not simply using Houston Public Library programs in the short-term, but integrating these into the community to create a model After School Zone program in a pilot community. The Kinder Institute’s report on the impact of Harvey and the Out2Learn network report funded by the Houston Endowment and released with the United Way of Greater Houston can be used to identify a pilot community. The approach suggested is to scaffold these reports to identify high-need areas where kids and families lack out-of-school-time resources while preserving quality and efficacy. Participants advised consulting the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time to identify quality indicators.

This project proposal identifies several partnership types necessary for success:

  • a facility partner, which could be a school, public school district, community-based organization or even government facility that allows HPL to offer extended and out-of-school programs;
  • a volunteer partner to help meet programming and staffing needs. A business, community, or higher education partnership as a source for volunteers could help supplement the employees of the public library;
  • a research partner who would monitor the efficacy of the model, possibly provided by the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time or an Endowment-funded group who has worked in this area; and
  • a programmatic partner already engaged in the neighborhood, which could include organizations like Workforce Solutions, cafécollege Houston, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), or others to create a full-suite, full-service partnership for family out-of-school time.

SUPPLEMENTAL EDUCATION SERVICE FUNDS. Participants questioned whether Houston Public Library and the type of afterschool/out-of-school learning program envisioned here would be eligible for state funding that supports supplemental learning opportunities in low performing schools. Under the Texas Education Code, the state is required to provide interventions for children attending identified low-performing schools. Eligible services could include tutoring or other afterschool learning services. This could provide a revenue stream for the library to support out-of-school literacy programs. Despite the challenge involved in seeking and securing this funding, it makes sense for HPL to investigate this as a way to support its family literacy work. (See “LEAs with Schools Identified as Priority and/or Focus for school year 2017-2018,” Texas Education Association website). The Texas Education Agency ( maintains updated information about eligibility and requirements for funding.

In sum, the project proposes the following four key actions to advance a portfolio approach for a total family literacy program:

  1. Clarify current available space, partnerships, and funding.
  2. Re-examine partnerships. Are they the rights ones to meet the needs for facilities, volunteers, research, and programs? Are they productive and mutually beneficial?
  3. Create partnerships to push out authoritative information on topics related to family health and wellness, education, child development, and a variety of literacies to strengthen families.
  4. Take the opportunity of siting new library or other city/community-based organization facilities to find the best locations and to leverage other CBOs and neighborhood groups.

MEASURABLE RESULTS AND OUTCOMES. While there is a tendency to look to academic achievement for measuring outcomes, the proposal advises caution on the ability to draw a direct line from out-of-school programs leading to increased achievement scores. In order to move the needle, the project should focus on student participation which has been shown by research to be a reliable metric for improving academic achievement. Tracking participation would be one way to measure results. Additional outcome measures would be determined after further deliberation but might include metrics related to socio-emotional learning outcomes. Impact measures could even extend to those outside the education system, such as juvenile crime rates, child abuse or child neglect rates, and other activities that are happening during the programs’ scheduled time periods.

Participants expressed interest in an easy-to-implement technology solution for tracking frequency of student participation. They also anticipated the need for policy changes where existing policies present barriers to operational functions and goals. For example, school systems often place restrictions on non-school providers of afterschool programs and use of their facilities on evenings and weekends. There may need to be some policy considerations to figure out what a sustainable hybrid approach might be to the typical model of having kids come to the library.

Project 2: Leverage the library to fill public gaps along the workforce continuum

Dialogue participants expressed concern over the impact of the disaster on Houston’s workforce and skills development in both short and long-term timeframes. The Houston Public Library can support the work of the city’s business, workforce development, and higher education sectors in creating pathways for learning, skills development, and helping individuals to identify pathways to achieve their goals.

PROJECT GOAL. Change the perception of public libraries from “Libraries = Books” to seeing Houston Public Library as a thriving part of Houston’s economic development ecosystem and a learning institution that fills public gaps along the workforce continuum. The project proposes to scale the cafécollege Houston program by developing the career component through the integration of workforce solutions and economic development partners. The proposal recommends an initial focus on the five Complete Communities pilot communities.

BACKGROUND AND ASSUMPTIONS. Participants envisioned libraries as a thriving part of local economic development in neighborhoods and the city. Libraries offer a variety of core strengths and assets to support the workforce development continuum, including community connections, information resources and technology, assistance with basic skills development, and greater awareness about jobs and the economy. They cited cafécollege Houston as a great example, with its job labs, one-on-one coaching from Workforce Solutions, and the help it offers with computers and resume building. HPL’s cafécollege Houston does a good job working with youth, including Opportunity Youth ages 16 to 24, to help them get college and completion-ready. And it has the capability to work with the parents of these youth, especially low-literate adults, to help adults with career awareness and exploration.

The library system can work to increase the capacity of volunteers and other organizations such as the newly anticipated Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy as they target human capital development in the city. Given that technology plays an increasingly important role in the workforce and in job-seeking itself, participants identified the need for a “data solution”—as yet undefined—that would address digital capacity building around the workforce. One example cited is how the career site LinkedIn requires a new set of skills to create a digital online narrative about one’s work history, successes, and skills. Libraries can be places where job seekers can create their own personal narratives.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR IMPLEMENTATION. First, the library and other partners in the ecosystem need to clarify accountability and roles concerning participants on the workforce development continuum, including how layers on this continuum might overlap others. Similar to Project 1 above, this proposal involves building on existing community assessments to address the following tasks:

  • Clarifying shared goals and metrics. How well do these align?
  • Identifying training and partners to fill the identified need
  • Increasing volunteer opportunities and deployment
  • Re-branding to include all services available through the partnership

Houston Public Library will need to integrate partners into its cafécollege Houston offerings in ways that can scale into the five Complete Communities neighborhoods and ultimately across the city. This will involve creating a vision, getting that vision out to CBOs, and developing shared action plans. It also will involve leveraging assets like the TECHLink locations and perhaps HPL’s planned seven central libraries, on the one hand, and community and employer-based assets, like makerspaces and Houston Community College’s Fab Lab expertise, on the other.

Adaptable spaces for training literacy workforce partners and bringing expertise on-site are also crucial. The continuum of classes could run from adult basic education, ESL, GED, to workforce development and digital literacy training. Curriculum could be derived from any number of sources, including partner organizations or online resources like Khan Academy. Financial literacy and empowerment is an essential part of the overall curriculum, in keeping with the vision of the public library’s emerging role in neighborhood and community economic development. This highlights the need for banks and other financial institutions as partners. With the library’s exploration of more non-traditional library roles, there is an opportunity for the library to foster innovative partnerships to blend areas of expertise. For example, connecting social work (see schools of social work recommendation above) to workforce development activities.

The project’s success would rest not only on the library’s ability to build capacity to do this work, but also on its ability to successfully rebrand the library in this area. The rebranding is not only external (for example, messaging such as: “The library does great partnerships. It is a workforce place. It is a family place.”), or signage at the library (e.g., “Stella Link Library: A Workforce Resource Center”), but also with regard to the workforce ecosystem in Houston, rebranding as partners (i.e., “The libraries are amazing to work with…it’s more than just an MOU”).

In sum, the project addresses the following six key actions to support libraries’ role on the workforce continuum:

  1. Filter the library’s visions and action plan to CBOs and workforce partners for adapting program development and delivery.
  2. Bring community-based expertise (e.g., Workforce Solutions, United Way of Greater Houston’s Thrive) on-site.
  3. Assess current levels of financial literacy and empowerment, and blend into action plan.
  4. Identify specific curriculums to scale and deploy.
  5. Integrate sub-regional economies into these efforts.
  6. Design data solution that allows the user to own their career narrative and provide digital access training.

MEASURABLE RESULTS AND OUTCOMES. The eventual success of scaling the cafécollege Houston concept and expanding the library’s role in Houston’s workforce development ecosystem would be evaluated by measuring the following outputs and outcomes: increased workforce participation in specific neighborhoods and the city; newly adaptable spaces used by training, literacy and workforce partners in target communities; increased financial literacy and empowerment measured in the community; and increased internal innovation and partnership capacity with Houston Public Library.

Project 3: Insure the integrity of information in the community through collaborations with trusted information and communication partners

Participants explored the need for better alignment of organizations and the need to design and develop an infrastructure that can facilitate improved mechanisms for convening, coordinating, collaboration, and communication. Designing communication and civic engagement strategies that build awareness, knowledge, trust, and resilience is a priority.

PROJECT GOAL: Houston Public Library is to be recognized as the trusted source of information in the community. Furthermore, this project will expand access to trusted information in coordination with other critical information partners and ensure the integrity of information in the community as Houston rebuilds. Participants proposed enhancing access to HPL’s trusted information through strategic partnerships with two critical stakeholders: Houston Independent School District (HISD) and Houston’s media outlets and social media. A key part of the goal is to make this project budget neutral.

BACKGROUND AND ASSUMPTIONS:Access to information comes through both physical and digital resources. This requires attention to the physical spaces and hours of access to community information resources such as schools, libraries, and government offices where participants noted that hours are often too limited. Traditionally, libraries have had greater capacity for expanded hours than these other information outlets making them a key part of the city’s information infrastructure (although, it was noted, a usage study to determine library hours may be advisable to confirm this presumption).

Digital access is just as important and offers a number of new ways to extend the library’s reach by connecting with and through existing partners, like the public school districts and media outlets. The Houston Public Library has an array of digital assets and technologies including Internet access at all locations, Wi-Fi hot spots and laptops for loan, and digital literacy training. Participants noted that a large percentage of Houston’s senior population is not tech-driven; there are many seniors who need assistance using new technologies. It is important to connect with seniors and other vulnerable populations to provide opportunities for “free” resources, including materials in multiple languages.

Concerning funding, participants recommended that recovery funding should assist in rebuilding the city’s digital infrastructure. They also raised the potential to leverage contracting to expand opportunities and enhance partnerships in this area.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR IMPLEMENTATION. Implementation of this project is envisioned with two primary sets of partnerships and collaborations: a partnership with HISD and partnerships with Houston’s media ecosystem (print, electronic, and digital outlets).

HISD Partnership. A key concern addressed by this proposal is the need to get information about access and services to community members who may not proactively seek it. This project proposes a partnership with HISD which has wide reach and provides high school students with laptops and K-8 students with laptops during the school day. Each child signs onto an HISD hub that could include valuable information posted by the Houston Public Library. The partnership would push content from HPL as a trusted source through that hub, allowing students to click on a link (if that is part of the information for that day) or share the availability of information with parents, allowing parents to click and read.

The partnership can let parents know that information is available on the hub by using HISD’s parent contact information. An information sharing agreement already exists between HISD and HPL (217,000 students use their student ID number as an HPL library card), so a modification of the MOU may be all that is required to begin. For families that do not have digital connections in the home, students who bring laptops home provide an important information resource in the home. This can be leveraged to improve accessible information channels in the city.

Media Partnerships. Each media organization has a mandate to benefit the community, but often these obligations are not put into play as effectively and sustainably as they otherwise could be. The premise of this partnership is that HPL would collaborate with media and other community partners to provide vetted information and content, and to extend the reach of the Houston Public Library as a key source of trusted information in Houston.

The project would reach out to all media in the city—community and ethnic newspapers, other print publications, radio, broadcast and cable television, and digital media. Innovative distribution partnerships (Meals on Wheels, county and state Department of Public Safety offices, health clinics, and churches) could be engaged as well, to reach vulnerable populations and others who may not access traditional or digital media on a regular basis. The project envisions that HPL would convene a meeting of all media outlets at the owner, news director, general manager, and publisher levels as a means to seek partnerships for library-related public service announcements (PSAs) and to develop better alignment and infrastructure for coordination, collaboration, and communication. This meeting could also enlist their assistance with the creation of an “HPL Trusted Source” campaign and to develop partnerships to create PSA campaigns and messaging around HPL content. Developing these relationships now would be vital to preparation for the next disaster to strike Houston.

Corporations like Comcast, which is a member of the Houston Public Library Foundation board, Clear Channel, and Houston Television (HTV) that have existing relationships with the library could be enlisted to help lead the development of this project. They might, for example, identify one channel for library and/or CBO content, perhaps by service areas, or use their influence to get others to the table for dialogue and conversation.

With regard to social media, the project proposes to increase the library’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other valuable social media channels. It also recommends that the library develop partnerships with city council members to disseminate trusted information at critical times and on important subjects, pointing back to the library as a place of access and engagement, free information, and information in multiple languages and for multiple levels of literacy.

In sum, the project addresses the following five key actions to strengthen collaboration for a trusted information ecosystem:

  1. Partner with HISD to push library-created content and information out through student laptops via the HISD hub and use parent email to make families aware of hub-based information and resources.
  2. Convene a meeting of city-wide media (print, electronic, digital) to develop better alignment and improved infrastructure for coordination, collaboration, and communication of accurate information during times of crisis.
  3. Enlist media outlets to create PSA campaigns for the Houston Public Library as a trusted information source in the community.
  4. Increase the library’s social media presence, activity, and engagement.
  5. Develop innovative partnerships with other community-based organizations and service providers as channels for disseminating library information.

MEASURABLE RESULTS AND OUTCOMES. These projects would result in greater and timely dissemination of accurate information to residents in the community, especially important at times of crisis. It would also produce increased utilization of library resources and assets, and improved community engagement and internal staff development. Outreach to media across the city would be expected to result in an increased number of partnerships which would increase the number of people who engage with library-created content, library brand building, and library awareness (as measured by community surveys). The library’s partners will enjoy a boost to their own brands through association with the library.

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