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CHAPTER 6 - Conclusion: The Grand Opportunity

The Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries brought together city leaders and stakeholders from community-based organizations to identify ways to leverage the assets and expertise of the Houston Public Library to build a more equitable and resilient city. The Dialogue serves as a model for demonstrating the library’s power to convene people and to serve as a catalyst for fresh thinking and creative, collaborative problem solving.

The experience of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath have affected the fabric of community and daily life for all of the city’s residents, especially the most vulnerable populations. Participants highlighted themes of resilience and strength and they brought strong leadership and vision to the conference table, resulting in a set of compelling recommendations for HPL and other local institutions to pursue.

The conversation uncovered several promising ideas to engage the city’s libraries in new ways to expand access to key literacies and financial empowerment. The discussions also highlighted the opportunities for the library to engage with the Complete Communities initiative and its five pilot communities. Focusing on these five neighborhoods provides a means to start small in implementing ideas in this report and then plan for growth as resources become available and results warrant. The Dialogue created a fertile environment for thinking creatively about new partnership possibilities between the public library and the city’s colleges and universities, and for developing new models like smart portfolio approaches for more effective service delivery. Importantly, the conference identified the Houston Public Library as one of the most trusted and capable information sources in the city at a time of great despair nationally over trust in institutions and the state of accuracy and credibility in information providers.

Perhaps the most compelling insight from the Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries is the recognition that the city of Houston has a grand opportunity represented in its public library system. City leaders began to seize this opportunity by identifying critical opportunities to leverage the resources and expertise of Houston Public Library to address critical needs for recovery and rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Of course, demands on HPL resources and the resources of potential partners have tempered HPL’s ability to pursue all of these recommendations and projects in the near-term. However, the library is poised to move the most promising ideas forward and address the goals of all of the recommendations and proposals as resources become available.

The opportunity to bridge gaps in equity and opportunity across the neighborhoods and communities of Houston extend well beyond the library’s response to this one disaster. Fully seizing this grand opportunity will rely on intentionally filtering a vision for the library as a partner, a place, and a platform for learning, literacy, access, engagement, empowerment, and discovery. This level of intentionality to infuse a renewed, community-centered vision for the library into planning by the city’s public, nonprofit, and private sectors has not previously existed. With a wake-up call from Hurricane Harvey and the leadership and commitment of the Dialogue participants and Houston Public Library, it is time to advance efforts to leverage the library as a key partner for building thriving families and equitable communities in Houston.

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