What we heard from our Community Listening Sessions and Focus Groups


Written by Justyn Rampa, Customer Experience Manager, Downtown Main Library

As part of Building the Next Generation Library, opens a new window, the Library conducted community engagement over the past several months that resulted in hearing from more than 3,000 community members. Two of the main channels of feedback have been through our Community Listening Sessions and our Focus Groups.

In late 2018, the Library hired Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning to help develop a Facilities Master Plan. The Facilities Master Plan serves as the Library’s road map to re-envision how to best serve our communities in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. In early 2019, Group 4 hired Design Impact to help gather input from communities and Library customers through several community engagement sessions.

In the summer of 2019, Library staff served as primary facilitators for 41 Community Listening Sessions across the county at each one of our locations. We had more than 500 participants join the conversation about what improvements they would like to see at their library and how we can work together to build the Next Generation Library.

From spring to summer of 2019, Design Impact served as the primary facilitator for 15 focus groups across the county resulting in hearing from 73 participants. This was an opportunity to elevate the voices of community members we were not seeing represented in our ongoing engagement efforts. These groups included:

●    Low-income residents
●    Parents with young children
●    Returning citizens
●    School resource coordinators
●    People seeking entry-level employment
●    Young professionals
●    African-American men
●    Teens
●    Residents from Sayler Park area
●    8 to10 year-olds
●    People experiencing homelessness
●    Entrepreneurs
●    Refugees
●    Residents from Cleves area
●    People with disabilities

Here are some key themes that have emerged from both the Community Listening Sessions and the Focus Group work.

Invest in facility upgrades (Focus Group Theme #1)
The community welcomes the opportunity for updated facilities that increase convenience and accessibility. However, customers also desire equitable upgrades and ongoing maintenance, not just one-time changes. 

Build flexible spaces for work and play (Focus Group Theme #2)
Because our community spaces and personal spaces are changing, the community wants the Library to play two roles: a resource for work and focus and a social hub to connect with others. These conflicting needs require flexible areas and designated areas within the Library. 

Maximize access (Focus Group Theme #3)
Many individuals struggle to get to the Library because of transportation challenges, family responsibilities, or physical limitations. People struggle to fully take part in all the Library has to offer, whether that’s getting in the front door or utilizing all of the resources that are available. 

Operational Sustainability and Green Space (Community Listening Session Theme #1) 
Better utilization of outdoor space by cultivating the area around the Library or in some cases expanding the Library to put those spaces inside the building. This also included a lot of discussion around green energy and LEED certification. 

Diversity and Inclusion (Community Listening Session Theme #2)
Consider the overall Library experience with particular focus on consideration for flexibility in space so that the Library could adapt and stay relevant, communities can see themselves reflected in the space, and attempt to design space for everyone no matter how they use the Library. This ranged from a discussion around ADA accessibility to customers who primarily use the Library online and really want to improve the online experience. 

Library as a community destination (Community Listening Session Theme #3)
Many people talked about how the Library is such an anchor for the community and an inextricable part of the community identity. Community members shared how much they appreciated how welcoming their branch is and would like to see the Library position itself more as a community destination. 

For more information, check out our Building the Next Generation Library , opens a new windowweb page including the full Focus Group Summary Report, opens a new window. At this time, we expect that the full Facilities Master Plan will be divided into three sections. The FMP Executive Summary from the first section will be presented on December 10 at the Board Meeting. The remaining sections are scheduled to be completed by the beginning of January.