Hopkinton Public Library unites community in library planning

Steve Hanulec /

Adapted from an article published on 30 January 2024 to LinkedIn by Steve Hanulec, a Library Services Consultant at OCLC.

sensory room with a swing chair, SAD lamp, crash pad, and other sensory items

There are thousands of public libraries in the United States, all different sizes with unique communities. Though larger libraries may often benefit from higher staff counts and bigger budgets, size isn’t everything. This is definitely the case for the 2,000-square-foot Hopkinton Public Library in Iowa.

A team of just two enthusiastically support 338 library card holders, across Hopkinton and the county. They offer an impressive, weekly slate of engaging programs. And people love them. In fact, some event attendance numbers have eclipsed the total cardholder count, even when there’s a cost. So, what’s the secret sauce? Including the community from beginning to end. From an annual haunted house to community bake-offs, the library incorporates locals for ideation and program planning, so they feel invested and want to participate. 

Full-time Library Director Kim Albright and her part-time Assistant Director, Michelle Bovee, run the entire show, so this kind of engagement is vital. They plan and implement all programs, handle day-to-day activities of running the library, manage social media, and oversee other communications. (I’m tired just thinking about it.) But while the duo juggles a ton, Kim believes a recent initiative is one of her greatest achievements and an incredible community asset.

Create accessible spaces

City bus on the street near a sign that reads ‘Be Mighty’

Did you know that up to 20% of the world’s population is neurodivergent (National Institutes of Health)? Kim has a neurodivergent family member and is acutely aware of the lack of care and resources available to individuals who are neurodiverse, and their families. And it was with this in mind that she applied for and received a Libraries Transforming Communities: Accessible Small and Rural Communities grant from ALA (American Library Association) to build a sensory room from an old broom closet in the library.

This new accessible space includes a sensory swing, a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamp, tactile wall panels, fiber optic lighting, a sensory crash pad, sensory floor tiles, a bubble light, and more. “There aren’t a lot of facilities in this area that offer sensory-friendly spaces, so we’re thrilled to make this space available free to our library cardholders,” said Kim.     

Use community expertise

Though Kim quickly praises her “very supportive” local government and community for embracing the library, it’s clear her joy and energy are also instrumental to Hopkinton Public Library’s positive impact. She encourages other small, rural libraries to not be deterred by fewer resources when it comes to planning for community engagement. “Start small. I see the community as a collection, and often draw from their expertise to plan programs, like teaching crochet.”

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, but the level of community engagement Kim has worked to foster and maintain throughout her 16 years with the library is truly inspiring. Now what did I do with my planner? I’m obviously not doing enough.

Photos provided courtesy of Hopkinton Public Library.

For more community engagement inspiration, please visit our hub at oc.lc/community-engagement.

Steve Hanulec

"I believe the printed word is more than sacred;
Beyond the gauge of good or bad,
The human right to let your soul fly free and naked
Above the violence of the fearful and sad."
- Andy Partridge

Lucky to work at OCLC, even more lucky to work with my clients—public librarians.

Specialties: Consultation, project analysis and deployment, strong multimedia/web user.

Community engagement

Where do you go for inspiration? Invigorate your community engagement efforts with advice from library leaders.