context book report – community

Community Context Book Report

 “Communities are human systems given form by conversation that build relatedness.” (p. 178)

Peter Block did not write about libraries in Community: The Structure of Belonging.  Yet, the concepts explored lend very well to developing a culture of change in many contexts, including the library, by increasing accountability and responsibility of each member of a community through citizen-to-citizen engagement.  The purpose of this framework of community engagement is to re-frame our conception of community and how a sense of belonging can be deliberately and authentically constructed in order to facilitate the connectedness necessary to achieve real and intentional transformation in a small group.


 “…to belong is to be related to and a part of something.  To belong to a community is to act as a creator and co-owner of that community.” (p. xii)

Membership can be sold and purchased, but the membership Block proposes is democratic and deep.  Belonging as a fundamental human need is central to Block’s philosophy and the language used reflects the variety of ways we talk about belonging: collective, connected, membership, linked, interdependence, involved, participated, associated, related, attached…  We have all experienced loss of a connection to some degree and the words associated with the loss often evoke a strong reaction:  marginalized, unattached, fragmentation, broken, detached, disconnected, isolated, loneliness, dividedness, separated, divorced, different…

The Conversations

“The power is in the asking, not in the answers.” Block (p. 184)

Intentional transformation is made possible through conversation and Block emphasized that the right questions are essential to transformation.  In order to create or transform a community, Block suggests we trade problems for possibilities through carefully formulated questions.  The small group meetings are carefully planned and feature specific conversations centered on:

  • Invitation:  A call to create a new future and its possibilities.
  • Possibility:  Problem solving is about the past, possibility is about the future.
  • Ownership:  In contrast to blame, we decide on our value and meaning.
  • Dissent:  “No” responses are not closed doors; they are opportunities to begin a dialog.
  • Commitment:  Promise made with no expectation of a return; it’s a deal, not a bargain.
  • Gifts:  Focus and capitalize on gifts rather than deficiencies.


“Invitation is the means through which hospitality is created.” (p. 113)

The concept of hospitality is emphasized in the first step to transformation beginning with an invitation and is reinforced when preparing for the meeting and the meeting space.  The goal is to be sure those involved each know they are valued and welcomed to encourage participation in the conversation regardless of status.  Attention to details of the space center around equality and comfort.  Some libraries have prioritized hospitality as they strive to improve their spaces and service so their customers will look forward to returning to the library as well as enjoying their visit.


“The essence of creating an alternative future comes from citizen-to-citizen engagement that constantly focuses on the well-being of the whole.” (p. 178)

Application of this framework may be made on various levels within a library context.   A library interested in seeking meaningful change or enhancing their institutional culture should begin exploring the ideas proposed by Block internally before inviting their customers and broader community to the conversation.  The internal library culture can be empowered by applying Block’s community concepts to transform its organization, creating a flatter and more collaborative work environment when everyone is equally valued and given permission to ask questions.  Because this framework requires a personal investment, co-creation and co-ownership, the leadership needs to be invested and set an example to ensure success.  It will be by leadership’s example that the rest of the staff will build the trust necessary for them to enter into the conversation.  Once the institutional connections are realized the broader community may be invited to participate in the decision and change making process so that services can be improved with increased customer contribution and participation through an open and creative dialog.

“All of this takes time, but we are choosing depth over speed.” (p. 148)

Block emphasizes that language is powerful and illustrates how to use it throughout each chapter.  At times, the explanations of his ideas are rather abstract, but he offers practical ideas and encouragement, too.  Equipped with the framework offered in Community, a library can affect positive change on all levels while strengthening relationships.  The most powerful message is that of action.  The act of structuring an authentic experience of belonging suggests a deliberate and purposeful construction of that experience to facilitate a sense of accountability and responsibility to the community attained through ownership and co-creation.  It is an investment that might be costly in time and attention to begin with, but will deliver results worth the effort.


Block, P. (2008). Community: The structure of belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.