Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces: Participant Overview

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’s WebJunction program, in partnership with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, is accepting applications from small public libraries (serving communities with fewer than 25,000 people) interested in engaging their communities in a process to transform physical space and to support active learning at the library.

The deadline to submit an application was Friday, January 18, 2019. All applicants will be notified of their selection status by Friday, February 15, 2019.

Other questions? Email project manager Brianna Hoffman at

What is Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces?

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.

During the first iteration of this project, 15 small public libraries serving rural or otherwise remote communities were selected to participate in an online orientation and community of practice facilitated by WebJunction, OCLC’s public library program. They worked with each other and their communities to reimagine and reconfigure their library spaces as hubs of active learning and engagement. OCLC is pleased to announce that thanks to a supplemental IMLS grant, WebJunction will be able to guide 15 more small and rural libraries through the transformation process to create smart spaces.

The Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces project is made possible by support from OCLC and by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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 15-month period (March 2019–May 2020). 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 15 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 12 or so 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 timelines 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.

Project Phases

  • Active Learning and Community Discovery: March 2019–June 2019
    Conduct community outreach and engagement regarding space transformation and active learning opportunities at your library.
  • From Discovery to Design: July 2019–August 2019
    Develop and test prototypes for library space transformation and active learning and integrate community feedback.
  • Active Planning and Implementation: September 2019–April 2020
    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 and outcomes regarding the use of the new space. The project team will work with libraries to co-develop case studies of selected library transformations for a national public library audience.
  • Celebrate and Sustain: May 2020
    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 or other funding sources). Allowable expenses generally include items like furniture, décor, technology 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:

  • Work for a U.S. public library. Applications from libraries in all states will be considered; in the interest of wide geographic diversity, applicants from states that did not participate in the first round of Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces are strongly encouraged to apply.
  • 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.
  • Demonstrate strong interest in engaging with community members and partners to develop library services.
  • Be able to dedicate one primary point of contact for project participation from March 2019–May 2020 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. Please note library directors will be expected to actively engage in the project by participating in the online learning community, attending certain live, online sessions, communicating with the project team and other project activities.
  • 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 learning community for this project.
  • Commit to participate in evaluation activities in support of project deliverables, such as 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?

The deadline to submit an application was Friday, January 18, 2019.  

All applicants will be notified of their selection status by Friday, February 15, 2019.

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.

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.

I already have a thorough plan for reconfiguring a space in the library. Can I use this program to implement it?

A large part of this project involves conducting community outreach and engagement regarding space transformation and active learning opportunities at your library. This means that the library and the community will be working together to determine what is best for/most needed in the community and develop the project from the results of that engagement. While you may already have a plan in mind, it is likely that it would change over the course of participating in this project. In fact, as one of the first round participants said, “Before this project started, I was sure of what my community needed. After going through the steps of the community discovery, I was able to find some things out about my community that I didn't know before. Those discoveries led us to create a space that would be better used by the community than my original idea.”

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

The program is made possible by support from OCLC and a National Leadership Grant (project number LG-80-16-0039-16) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Association for Rural and Small Libraries is the implementation partner for the duration of the project.