This week the OERC would like to highlight a community assessment that led to a public library’s outreach to the military community of Cumberland County, North Carolina. This project is described in “Library Services for the ‘New Normal’ of Military Families” by Jennifer Taft and Cynthia Olney, which appears in the November/December issue of Public Libraries. This article demonstrates how assessments can be used to involve community members in the process, leading to their commitment to the success of the outreach project.
Cumberland County is the home of Fort Bragg, one of the nation’s largest military bases. The military community there includes service members, their families, and the people and organizations that work to support the installation. The Cumberland County Public Library and Information Center was looking for ways to better serve this population. Getting an LSTA grant allowed the library to conduct a thorough assessment of the military community and the organizations that serve them.
The assessment process involved the community every step of the way:
- Library staff participated in the Fayetteville Community Blueprint Network, made up of organizations that provide support for service members, veterans and their families.
- The Library hosted a community forum on post-traumatic stress, which was met with enthusiasm.
- The assessment team used key informant interviews and focus groups to collect data.
- They also met with additional groups of military parents.
- Results were validated by presenting them to Living in the New Normal Committee, a group comprised of representatives from community organizations that work with military families.
- The Library created marketing and program strategies based on these results.
- These strategies were validated by presenting them to an advisory group of representative from organizations in Cumberland County or Fort Bragg.
The community assessment described in the article helped the library staff to understand the military community in greater depth. For example, the project team originally believed that post-traumatic stress would be a major topic of interest. They learned, instead, that the military deployment cycle is the single biggest disruptor to family. This cycle, from preparing for the service member’s departure, to adjustment to a single-parent situation, to then reintegrating the returning service member back into the family, is increasingly stressful the more often it occurs. This finding had significant impact on the library’s planning going forward. Other key findings are covered in the article, along with the library’s plan to respond to the community’s needs.
One of the clearest manifestations of the success of the assessment was the willingness of the community to support the library programs. For example, Community Blueprint Network organizational members participated in a library birthday celebration for the Army. Local military museums agreed to lend museum pieces to the library for display. Most significantly, the library’s requests to participate in on-post activities, which had not been approved before, were now met with enthusiasm by post personnel who had participated in the assessment process.