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About the Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries

The purpose of the Houston Dialogue was to create an opportunity for open dialogue in which business, government, nonprofit, education and library leaders could explore the changing role of libraries and how to engage with them to build a smarter, healthier and more resilient city. The agenda asked participants to identify strategic opportunities presented by the city’s public libraries in response to the educational, economic, social and technological transformations that are taking place in Houston and across the country. Three fundamental questions provided a compass for directing the conversations:

  1. How do libraries help to foster equity and opportunity in the community?
  2. What changes are needed to strengthen the role of libraries in building a more equitable and resilient Houston?
  3. What can my networks and I do to help define and implement pathways for action and sustainability?

The end-goal of this event was to identify key recommendations for action to advance progress on library-community partnerships that build community capacity, opportunity and sustainable solutions.

Key Activities of the Houston Dialogue

The Houston Dialogue included two key events. First, the Houston Public Library hosted a two hour Hurricane Response and Recovery Discussion on September 14, 2017 with 23 leaders from Houston area nonprofit, education, business and government organizations to discuss how their institutions were leveraging their own and other community resources to respond to the needs of the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. A summary of this discussion is included in the Appendix to the report.

Using the priorities and insights identified in the September meeting, 30 participants and eight additional library staff members met on November 15-16, 2017 to explore in greater depth how to leverage the assets of the city’s libraries as the city moved forward. The November event featured an evening reception with opening remarks by Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards and presentations by members of HPL’s staff on the innovative work being done by the Houston Public Library. The event continued on the second day with a mix of moderated roundtable sessions and smaller break-out groups to develop recommendations.

A luncheon at City Hall featured a video welcome from Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Houston Dialogue Participants

The following individuals participated in the Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries, November 15-16, 2017.

Claudia Aguirre-Vasquez
President and Chief Executive Officer

Phyllis Bailey
Principal Consultant
Phyllis J. Bailey Public Relations Consulting

Julie Baker Finck
Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation

Peter Beard
Senior Vice President, Regional Workforce Development
Greater Houston Partnership

Veronica Chapa Gorczynski
Greater East End Management District

Evelyn Dravis
Library Manager and FLIP Director
Children's Museum of Houston

Amanda Edwards
Council Member
Houston City Council

Melanie Fisk
Chief Executive Officer
Literacy Advance of Houston

Bill Fulton
Director, Kinder Institute for Urban Research
Rice University

Amy Garmer
Director, Dialogue on Public Libraries
The Aspen Institute

Licia Green Ellis
Houston Public Library Foundation

Lynn Henson
Planning Manager, Planning & Development Department
City of Houston

Winell Herron
Group Vice President of Public Affairs, Diversity and Environmental Affairs

Zachary Hodges
Houston Community College Northwest

Risha Jones
Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer
Houston Health Department

Sara Kellner
Director, Civic Art + Design
Houston Arts Alliance

Lester King
Research Scientist
Rice University

Mary Lawler
Executive Director
Avenue CDC

Rhea Brown Lawson, PhD
Houston Public Library

Elwyn C. Lee
Vice President for Community Relations and Institutional Access
University of Houston

Decrecia Limbrick
Assistant Director, Children and Family Services
Houston Health Department

Edward Melton
Harris County Public Library

Laura Murillo
President and Chief Executive Officer
Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Jim Nicholas
Houston Market President
Capital One Bank

Tonyel Simon
Program Officer
Houston Endowment

Rhonda Skillern-Jones
Board of Education, District II
Houston Independent School District

Mark Smith
Director and Librarian
Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Mike Temple
Executive Director
Workforce Solutions-Gulf Coast Workforce Board

Amanda Timm
Executive Director
Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Patrick Walsh
Director, Planning & Development Department
City of Houston


Laurie Covington
Deputy Assistant Director of Customer Experience
Houston Public Library

Ophelia R. Gomes
Deputy Assistant Director of Organizational Development
Houston Public Library

Mary Hammond
Data Collections & Analyst
Specialist & Council Liaison
Houston Public Library

Dominique Harrison
Project Manager
Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute

John Middleton
Assistant Director of Spaces and Communications Divisions
Houston Public Library

Ricardo Peralez
Assistant Director of Digital Strategies
Houston Public Library

Nicole Robinson
Deputy Director
Houston Public Library

Elizabeth Sargent
Assistant Director of Customer Experience
Houston Public Library

Hope Waobikeze
Assistant Director of Financial Services
Houston Public Library

Why was Houston selected as a dialogue location?

The Houston Public Library (HPL), under the direction of Dr. Rhea Lawson, embodies the type of community-engaged library that the Aspen Institute’s vision report says is necessary to help communities navigate the new learning, civic and innovation ecologies of the 21st century. Houston was selected for the strength of its library leadership and the library’s commitment and capacity to work with community stakeholders to implement recommendations coming out of the Dialogue. Additional considerations included support from Houston’s elected officials and HPL’s network of relationships within the community. Selecting the Houston Public Library also enabled the Aspen Institute to create a library-community dialogue model in a major urban center that is also among the most diverse cities in the United States. The Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries was the first multi-stakeholder forum convened in a major city by the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, and the first in the state of Texas.

Houston Dialogue Steering Committee

The development of the Dialogue was guided by a steering committee of experienced and knowledgeable thought leaders including Anna Babin of United Way of Greater Houston, Julie Baker Finck of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Peter Beard, of Greater Houston Partnership, Dr. David Buck of Baylor College of Medicine, City Council Member Amanda Edwards, Roland Garcia of the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board, Jonathon Glus of the Houston Arts Alliance, Licia Green Ellis of the Houston Public Library Foundation, Winell Herron of HEB, Zachary Hodges of Houston Community College, Dr. Lester King of Rice University, Dr. Grenita Lathan of the Houston Independent School District, Tonyel Simon of the Houston Endowment, and Y. Ping Sun of Rice University, with Houston Public Library Director Rhea Brown Lawson, PhD and Amy Garmer, Director of Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries.