New Grant Allows Library to Expand Pioneering Group-Learning Program

Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Courtney Lewis
New Grant Allows Library to Expand Pioneering Group-Learning Program

(Kansas City, Missouri) – The Kansas City Public Library will broaden an online group-learning program that it helped pioneer, using a substantial new grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

The $213,416 award will allow the Library and Peer2Peer University – its partner in the project – to expand the program’s focus to job search skills and other career training and to general education. Currently, the Library trains librarians and volunteers to serve as facilitators who meet weekly with groups of five to 15 adult learners. They work through online courses covering such digital topics as email, mapping and directions, social media, and internet safety and security.

The Library now plans to pilot a job-training learning circle early next year, aligning with a Kansas City-area corporate partner that will assist in drawing up the curriculum. The format is designed to prepare learning-circle participants to enter the workforce.

“We’re pleased that our success thus far has been recognized by IMLS and we are able to expand the learning circle services for our patrons and community partners in Kansas City,” says Wendy Pearson, the Library’s education and career advance coordinator. “Extended support helps us enter the second phase of this project – developing a more strategic focus on getting KC job seekers qualified and connected to the positions that local corporate entities often struggle to fill.”

Says Carrie Coogan, who oversees KCPL’s digital literacy initiatives as deputy director for public affairs and community engagement, “These services are vital to our community, and they show the importance the Library places on ensuring equal access and services for people and families who don’t have access to computers, classes, and job readiness opportunities.”

The Kansas City Public Library has taken a leadership role in digital literacy efforts, both locally and nationally. Coogan chairs the executive committee of the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion, and is a member of the directing council of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

The new IMLS award supplements an initial $249,586 grant from the Washington, D.C.-based agency in April 2017. It created a national cohort of library systems – in Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Tampa, and Milledgeville, Georgia, in addition to Kansas City – that worked with Peer2Peer University to implement the learning-circle model within their adult education programs. 

The supplemental IMLS funding will extend the project to six more public library systems across the country, doubling its reach.

“This IMLS funding will also enable the Kansas City Public Library to convene again with libraries at a national summit to share best practices and learn about learning-circle experiences in other communities,” Pearson says. “The recent 2018 Learning Circles Summit helped our team not only identify our strengths and share them with libraries just getting started but also helped us walk away with fresh ideas for how to better serve patrons and community partners through this innovative learning format.”

More than 400 people nationwide have received training through the program to date, joining 52 learning circles at the Kansas City Public Library and five other participating library systems across the U.S.