Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces: Participant Overview

Please note: this application process is now closed. The following content is for informational purposes only. 

Are you …

  • Always thinking about new ways to engage your community with your library’s services?
  • A big-picture thinker who can also manage minute details and get people excited about long-term projects?
  • Looking for an opportunity to reinvigorate your library space to support active learning in your community?

Then read on! OCLC, in partnership with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, is now accepting applications from small public libraries (serving communities with fewer than 25,000 people) interested in engaging their communities in a space transformation process to support active learning at the library.  

Questions? Email program manager Betha Gutsche at

What is Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces?

Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces is a two-year project made possible by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Smart library spaces are places designed to meet the needs and desires of diverse communities. Smart spaces are where discovery and community intersect, fostering social connection among people of all ages by providing opportunities for active learning.

Through this project, 15 small public libraries serving rural or otherwise remote communities will be selected to participate in an online orientation and community of practice facilitated by WebJunction, OCLC's public library program. They will work with each other and their communities to reimagine and reconfigure their library spaces as hubs of active learning and engagement.

What are benefits of participation to my library and my community?

As a result of participation in this program, your library will:

  • Engage community members and local partners to create a new, dynamic space at the library that supports active learning;
  • Be better prepared to quickly adapt the use of library space in response to evolving community needs and interests; and
  • Strengthen or deepen relationships with community and local partners to magnify the library’s role in providing active learning opportunities for all.

Your community members will have an opportunity to shape and influence the reconfiguration of an existing library space that reflects their interests and learning goals, and benefit from continued access to related services.

What is the overall time commitment?

As a participating library, you will engage in online learning and put that learning into practice to facilitate library space transformations and active learning opportunities over a 17-month period (February 2017–June 2018). Because each library's community engagement and transformation process will be unique, it is essential that you are able to prioritize and make time for this work proactively. At a minimum, you can expect to spend an average of four hours a week over the 17 months, with periods of greater or lesser intensity depending upon the phase of engagement.

The WebJunction project team will work closely with participants to set and manage expectations around schedules and time commitments for online learning activities, which will include ten to 12 live online learning sessions (60–90 minutes each), independent readings, group discussion forums, regular progress reporting and contribution to project evaluation activities through all phases of engagement.

The WebJunction project team will also work closely with participants to set milestones for each phase of engagement and will support participants in customizing approaches to meet those milestones. Projected phases of engagement are detailed below (current timeline are estimates and subject to revision based on project priorities and individual library experiences). The WebJunction project team will provide ongoing instruction and support during each phase.

Engage and Explore: February 2017–June 2017

Conduct community outreach and engagement regarding space transformation and active learning opportunities at your library.

Prototype and Prepare for Change: July 2017–August 2017

Develop and test prototypes for library space transformation and active learning, and integrate community feedback.

Transform and Learn: September 2017–May 2018

Create a detailed action plan and budget for completing your space and related service transformations, implement the plan using local partners and resources where appropriate, and gather and report community feedback regarding the use of the new space. The project team will work with libraries to co-develop case studies of each library transformation for a national public library audience.

Celebrate and Sustain: June 2018

Reflect on your experiences together with other participants, and prioritize activities for sustaining and evolving your new spaces beyond the project timeline.

Is there a cost to participate?

Project participation is free to selected libraries. OCLC will provide each library with up to $5,000 in federal grant funds for allowable expenses associated with their space transformation (though libraries may choose to invest more from their own operating budgets.) Allowable expenses generally include items like furniture, décor, computer equipment, lighting, shelving, shipping, etc. Construction or labor costs are not allowable.

In order to receive funds from OCLC, participating libraries will need to submit a project action plan and detailed budget for their space transformation. OCLC will release 50% of each library's projected budget upon review and approval of this documentation, and will also work with individual libraries to establish a schedule for the release or reimbursement of remaining funds. Participating libraries will be required to provide itemized receipts with proof of payment for all expenses. Undocumented costs will not be approved or reimbursed. Participants will be provided with detailed guidance on these parameters as part of the orientation process.

What are requirements for participation?

In order to be considered for participation, applicants must:

  • Be a paid employee of a U.S. public library.
  • Work at a library building/branch that serves a community of fewer than 25,000 people.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the unique needs of your local community.
  • Show experience engaging community members and partners in prioritizing library services.
  • Share initial ideas about how your library space might be transformed to support active learning.
  • Be able to dedicate one primary point of contact for project participation from February 2017–June 2018 to (a) participate productively and consistently in collaborative online learning with other project participants, and (b) facilitate the community engagement, space transformation and active learning services central to this project. Ideally, this single point of contact is someone with decision-making authority at the library, or, minimally, someone with full support from the library director.
  • Have regular access to an internet-connected computer or laptop, as well as an audio connection (telephone or audio through your computer, i.e. VoIP), to participate in online webinars and meetings, and access the online community of practice for this project.
  • Commit to participate in evaluation activities in support of project deliverables, such as pre- or post- participation surveys, focus groups or interviews, a potential site visit from project staff, gathering information from community members about transformed space and services, etc.
  • Be able to work within the cost reimbursement process for allowable expenses associated with your library's space transformation, per the terms defined above.
  • Be willing to sign a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with OCLC to clarify expectations and parameters for participation.

How can I submit an application?

Please note – this application process is now closed. The following content is for informational purposes only. 

The application period has been extended! Applications are being accepted online through 5:00 p.m. PDT (8:00 p.m. EDT) on Monday, October 24, 2016: You can download and review a PDF copy of the application before preparing your response. We encourage you to review the questions in advance and take the time you need to fully consider your responses.

Fifteen public libraries will be selected for participation. All applicants will be notified of their selection status by Monday, November 28, 2016.

We will update information on this page based on questions we receive, so please be sure to submit any questions you may have to program manager Betha Gutsche at

Frequently Asked Questions:

These will be updated as new questions come up. If you have a question you don't see here, contact program manager Betha Gutsche at

Will live online sessions be recorded/archived?

Live online sessions will be recorded/archived for participants in the community of practice, in the event that they cannot attend a session. However, live participation will be encouraged to the fullest extent possible, and the project team will work proactively with all participants to coordinate timing that works the best for the most people.

Are small branches of larger library districts eligible to apply to participate?

Yes, small branches of larger library districts are eligible to apply to participate, if they can confirm that the primary neighborhood or community served by their specific branch has a verifiable population under 25,000.

Would a rural library district that covered one or more counties be eligible to apply on behalf of one of their branches serving their local community?

Applications need to come directly from the branch or building that is interested in participating, and, ideally, from the specific individual who would be the representative on this project.

Are tribal libraries eligible to apply?

Tribal libraries are eligible to apply, assuming they meet all other criteria.

Our library is entirely volunteer-run. Are we eligible for this project?

This project requires participation from a primary point of contact that is a paid employee of the library.

We have been discussing integrating the grounds surrounding the library into our programs. Would our interest in developing the library's grounds as library space fit into the parameters of this initiative?

Exterior library spaces are indeed spaces that can be considered as part of this project; so long as there is an intent to integrate those spaces with services or programs related to active learning at the library.

Would this project be relevant to my library if my library plans to either completely remodel or build new?

This project is focused on reimagining and reconfiguring existing library spaces, with an emphasis on providing active learning services for community members. Construction, labor, capital costs and related efforts are beyond the scope of this project, and not eligible for reimbursement.

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