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Community Engagement Toolkit

Designed for libraries to explore community engagement


  • Establishing trust must be highly prioritized. Without the trust of the community, engagement efforts will not be successful.
  • Recognizing the community’s experiences with, and impression of, your organization can inform the approach to engagement. What level of trust might the community have for your organization now?
  • The role of the organization in the engagement opportunity may be limited at first, but successful engagement can make incremental change, leading to stronger trust and further engagement opportunities. A successful introduction between your organization and the community is an example of a successful engagement which can be fostered into a deeper partnership in the future.
  • Once trust has begun to be established, consistency, communication, respect, humility, and flexibility are needed to maintain this trust.


Strategies for Trust


Ensuring all stakeholder voices are being heard will help establish relationships and foster trust. Respond to community concerns with honesty and action. The community knows its own needs. Never assume. Instead, listen with an open mind and think about how you can adapt your engagement to meet community needs. There should be “nothing about us without us.”

Things to Consider:

  • What demographics are you engaging with, and how can you reach others?
  • Is this community over-surveyed?
  • Is data already available which can be supplemented?
  • What resources and expertise do you have which could be helpful to the community? What expertise and skills exist in the community already?
  • What projects have already been done?

Tools to Use:

  • Primary and secondary data sources
  • Focus groups

Resources for Listening:



Establishing trust requires transparent, flexible communication with respect to the community’s individual customs and needs. Communicate effectively with stakeholders to get buy-in.

Things to Consider:

  • How does the community typically communicate?
  • Where do they meet?
  • Is there a strong online presence?
  • What language do they prefer?

Tools to Use:

  • Social media
  • Workshops and webinars
  • Physical media (posters, pamphlets)
  • Culturally appropriate materials
  • Fact sheets
  • Websites

Resources for Communication:



Developing Partnerships:

Community engagement cannot be done in isolation. Partnering with community leaders and trusted members of the public is key.

Things to Consider:

  • Who are the trusted members of the community? Think broadly about potential partners.
  • Who in the community is already doing similar work, or has in the past?

Tools to Use:

  • Interorganizational partnerships
  • Liaisons

Resources for Developing Partnerships:



Letting Go of Power

Trust must be mutual. Place ownership of community engagement in the hands of community members. Each community will also have its own unique needs, as well as unique strengths, solutions, and resources. Each community should have ownership of its own shared knowledge and heritage. Actively promoting ownership of the project, encouraging the community to guide the project, and ensuring community ownership of the project results, may mean disruption of preexisting expectations, structures, and approaches. This requires that the power structure be balanced in a mutually beneficial, community-favored manner.

Things to Consider:

  • Data sovereignty and data justice
  • Educating stakeholders in empowering ways
  • Mutually beneficial partnerships – what can you learn from the community?



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.