Led by Ron Dwyer-Voss, Library staff and trustees and meeting attendees had a hands-on exercise in Asset-Based Community Development at the July 17 Library Board meeting at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.                                      RoundTable photo  

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Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) absorbed the attention of the two dozen people who attended the July 17 Library Board of Trustees meeting at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.

ABCD, created decades ago at Northwestern University, calls for looking at communities from the point of view of their strengths rather than defining them by their deficiencies.

Defining a community by its needs, weaknesses or deficiencies can perpetuate those problems, or at best, offer only short-term solutions – solutions that continue to need funding, said Ron Dwyer-Voss. He trained at the ABCD Institute and later founded Pacific Community Solutions, Inc.

“ABCD instead with ‘What’s here that works? Let’s start with things that are already strong and building on them – then see what we need from the outside,’” he said.

John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, colleagues at Northwestern’s Center for Urban Affairs, established the ABCD Institute in 1988. They recognized that, although the strengths of a so-called disadvantaged community may lie in its residents and what they are already doing, that fact may be hidden by descriptions of its needs.

Mr. Dwyer-Voss led the Library Trustees and staff and those who attended the meeting through an ABCD exercise to identify some of the strengths of the Library and come up with ideas of how it could leverage community partnerships to energize the community. 

“Because libraries are such an amazing place, they are well positioned to help catalyze communities,” Mr. Dwyer-Voss said. “Libraries are trusted institutions; they’re intergenerational; they cut across class and race and gender.”

Institutions that catalyze a community support asset-mapping, connect mission-centered projects with existing assets, support power-shifting and spotlight community assets, he said.

“We make the road we walk on,” Mr. Dwyer-Voss said, “but sometimes there are potholes. There is a tendency to want to ‘program’ things. One of the critical roles you can play as the Library is not to do the work but connect and practice support. As you see how to try to connect assets, ask ‘How can we do it in a way that helps and is not just another program?’

“Don’t leave teaching just to the experts and libraries and schools.” Ideas, he said, are the opportunities to empower residents to take these leadership roles. One key, he said, is shifting the power from the institution to the individuals or community groups.

Each of the four groups in the exercise of finding ways the Library could help catalyze the community came up with a proposal for the Library to facilitate. One proposal involved a partnership with FAAM (the Fellowship of Afro-American Men); two others focused on bolstering the local economy and one was a way to disburse accurate information about resources.

“Do these seem doable?” Mr. Dwyer-Voss asked the groups. “Do they seem like they would boost the library?” The answers were affirmative. 

Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons  said the group’s proposals would be used “as a foundational concept as we go into our 2020 budget process and continue to explore where we provide Evanston Public Library services.”