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Community Engagement Toolkit

Designed for libraries to explore community engagement

What is Community Engagement?

There are many ways to define community and community engagement.

The NIH utilizes the CDC’s definition as follows: “...The process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well-being of those people. It is a powerful vehicle for bringing about environmental and behavioral changes that will improve the health of the community and its members. It often involves partnerships and coalitions that help mobilize resources and influence systems, change relationships among partners, and serve as catalysts for changing policies, programs, and practices (CDC, 1997, p. 9). Community engagement can take many forms, and partners can include organized groups, agencies, institutions, or individuals. Collaborators may be engaged in health promotion, research, or policy making.”


For the purposes of this toolkit, community engagement includes, but is not limited to, the following ideas:

  • It is an intentional, mutual exchange between a community and an organization that can inform, consult, involve and empower community members.
  • It promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, which improves discourse and strengthens consensus and decision-making.
  • It recognizes that every person is a part of one or more communities.  While a project may involve one group of people geographically, there are all kinds of communities within that community.
  • It leverages community expertise, recognizing the community members are experts of their own lives.
  • It recognizes that communities should have ownership of their own resources, solutions, and projects, which makes results more effective and increases the likelihood of success.
  • It recognizes that engaging establishes trust in organizations and can lead to lasting partnerships and networks of multiple communities and organizations.
  • It provides a way for members to have their voices heard, and for organizations to learn and grow by listening.
  • It builds capacity. When implemented to its greatest potential, it can empower groups of people and create lasting change.

The first step of community engagement is to define the community with which you hope to engage. For NLM and NNLM, this community can include healthcare workers, scientists and researchers, members of the public, teachers, librarians and more. Communities can exist in physical and virtual spaces. They can include people linked by location, interest, beliefs, or common goals. They are not static or passive. Understanding the community served, and the communities which could be served, is vital to beginning the engagement process.


About the Toolkit

This toolkit was originally created by NLM Fellow Allison Cruise in conjunction with the Office of Engagement & Training at the National Library of Medicine. Allison Cruise spent her 2nd Fellowship Year at UNM HSLIC.