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Putnam District Library

We aspire to be a community that is connected, engaged, thriving, and safe & healthy

The community we aspire to be:
  • Is viable and economically secure with diverse businesses
  • Values hard work, responsibility, & education
  • Is safe
  • Welcomes everyone and has a sense of connectedness
  • Is active and has engaged residents
  • Develops leaders and uses people’s talents
  • Knows and cares for their neighbors
  • Has pride in community
  • Is open to change
  • Has “draw” where people want to be and stay

Between November 2016 and February 2017, Putnam District Library staff members and community volunteers had 73 one-to-one conversations and held seven group conversations called Dine With Nine. In all, there was participation by 116+ community members from the greater Nashville area. Some conversations were held by volunteers with small groups in the middle and high school and others with community faith-based youth groups. Thus, the number is a bit higher than 116.

The formal conversations were attended by residents, local business owners, community organization representatives, teachers and school staff and volunteers, and government officials. A wide range of ages from middle school students through seniors are represented in this report.

These conversations were based on the Harwood approach ( which seeks to authentically engage with communities to better understand their aspirations, concerns, and readiness to act.

While these specific conversations were hosted by Putnam District Library, with financial support from the Barry Community Foundation (BCF), extra time from Holly & Paul Birkimer of 2 or 3 Together and donated meeting space from MOO-Ville, the larger partnership was with: the Library of Michigan, Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLS), and Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as part of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Libraries Transforming Communities initiative.

The Libraries Transforming Communities initiative seeks to strengthen libraries’ roles as core community leaders and change-agents.

Putnam District Library’s staff and board are committed to using what was heard in these conversations as we consider our role in community and the library’s programs and services. Oh...and, we are also committed to continued listening...

We hope other community organizations will use the information in similar ways.

Dine With Nine

A Few Notes

More than once, there was conversation about how we define community: Nashville or Maple Valley? Several Vermontville residents attended and participated. Since Putnam District Library serves the townships of Assyria, Castleton, and Maple Grove as well as any student or staff member in Maple Valley Schools and anyone who chooses to be a guest member, we listened broadly but focused the discussion intentionally on the community of Nashville.

Several people attended Dine With Nine who introduced themselves as “new to the area”. This was defined in various ways: within six months, within four years, and within ten years. Each person felt they were still “new”. Those who identified as “longtime residents” noted that they had things to learn from these participants in particular.

It was also noted, that on more than one occasion, people who didn’t know each other before their Dine With Nine exchanged contact information and set up times to meet informally.


Many share the concern that “we don’t know our neighbors like we used to.” People indicate that knowing each other helps everyone do a better job of caring for each other and including one another. It is also recognized that knowing your neighbor can go beyond “checking in” but also really getting to know them: their interests and their talents.

There is repeated conversation about bridging gaps: between ages, between organizations, between the school and community and between churches. They believe that building more connection will help us solve problems together.

“Whenever we can get different people working together who don’t normally work together, that’s a positive thing.”

Participants want to see more collaboration between organizations and better communication from them out into the community. People note that often the school is not connected to the rest of the community. There are also questions about local government: how it is organized, who represents what, and how to get involved. Participants know that this growth will require relationship building, intentional communication, and strong organized leadership.

A supported idea is using a community calendar as a way of coordinating what is happening. Also, continued use of social media is encouraged. People think more intentional gatherings of the community (like the Dine with Nine conversations) will help build more connections. People agree that this will require neighbors to be more intentional about inviting people to be involved. An additional benefit of knowing our neighbors that excites people is having knowledge of local experts and being able to connect with them as mentors. These mentor relationships are seen as a way to build bridges across age groups.


Concern in this area is twofold: that we're not making use of what we already have, in terms of resources and activity, and that we need to have accessible activities for all ages and abilities. Conversations about wanting to see people doing things and being active is a huge focus when residents describe what kind of community they want to live in. Playing and enjoying time as a community inside and outside are mentioned, as well as the need for night activities in the summer when nights are longer.

People note that transportation is an obstacle, helping organizations be sustainable is necessary, and being sure others are aware of what is happening is important. Participants note a resistance to change exists as does the need for a culture shift around the value of education...not just during school years but over the course of a lifetime.

It is a shared concern that there is an overall lack of pride and that fewer people are planting deep roots in the community. Attendees talk about wantingNashville to be a place people choose to live, stay, and raise families. The number of rental homes is repeatedly mentioned in connection with lack of pride. It is also noted that families in our area are stressed. Stressed is defined in many ways: finances, working parents, lack of local employment, and too much on the calendar. People sense that a lack of hope, lack of employment, and/or lack of time and/or extra cash prevent people from engaging.

Repeatedly, people say that there continues to be huge growth in community pride as a result of the Nashville Route 66 Business District. Still, they note that residents-at-large need to be involved by leading/volunteering, supporting activities already offered, and/or leading the charge for new activity.

Recommendations include creating a formal system for community engagement that helps people know what is available (both services and activities) and how people can utilize and/or support these things. Doing these things will connect resident talents to the right organizations. It is also recognized that such undertakings require sustained and dedicated leadership. Ideas are: offering incentives for engagement in community activities, creating a shuttle service, and mentoring systems. Individually, people can work to truly welcome and invite newcomers to get involved.

“There are a lot of people who truly desire to be in the community, but we’re shy {...or fill in the blank...}. We need to be encouraged and reminded.”


When people talk about living in a thriving community they describe a place with “draw” where people want to be and stay. They describe a place that is attractive, with art and curb appeal. They want to live in an area that is economically strong. They express a desire for diverse businesses to meet community needs and provide jobs for local residents. In this way, they describe a community with economic security where poverty is reduced and wealth is increased. Residents describe wanting Nashville to be a “place where things are made, resources are used, and hard work and integrity is valued”.

Participants are concerned there is not enough “shopping local” by residents nor promotion of what exists already. The limited hours of local business operation is mentioned, particularly from those who are working full time and find it hard to shop locally. Promotion of local businesses is an area for improvement; social media is noted as an opportunity. Diversity of business is desired, including more retail options where they can “just shop”. “In order to draw people you have to have things for them to use. There are lots of gas stations in Nashville, but there’s no Laundromat. The stores are very limited and if people can’t get what they need, they fill up and go someplace else.”

People recognize a deficit of jobs locally. They would like to see more mentoring of youth and the unemployed, helping to train them with basic skills. They note that there is opportunity for entrepreneurship where local talents and abilities could be used and existing gaps filled. A suggestion related to "draw" is a group of residents sharing tasks on a rotating schedule to beautify downtown.

In the area of being a thriving community, there are many questions. What connections exist between local businesses, schools, and organizations that could strengthen the economy? How do socioeconomic differences prevent us from thriving? Is there a vision for the future? Do we know what makes people want to stay in this area? Are we open to change and growth? Would we support a larger company or be afraid to risk the small town atmosphere? What drives people to Nashville? What makes or would make them stop their car here?

Research is recommended: what are our needs and our opportunities? How can people leverage their talents for income? How can what we have here be better promoted? How can people encourage Shopping Local? What programs for continuing education or mentoring exist? What kinds of things would create “draw”? What is our connection to the Barry County Economic Development Alliance? How can the Village of Nashville’s "jobs committee" be supported? Where is/who is the leadership in this area?

Safe & Healthy

People say they want to live in a safe community. It is harder for people to describe what safe means because, overall, people feel quite safe in Nashville. As one resident said, “Our first responders in Nashville do a wonderful job!” However, there is the perception that “a rental community means an unsafe community", and someone noted that a sense of safety and knowing your neighbors are connected.

Participants wonder if people’s basic needs are being met and recognize that mental health support is needed. People note lack of supervision of youth in the community and are concerned there isn’t affordable care for children while parents work. Further discussion notes that many of these stresses are tied to a lack of economic stability in families. Recommendations include knowing our neighbors, instituting a resident-led neighborhood watch, and creating mentoring opportunities to engage youth.

A huge concern is substance abuse in and around Nashville. People are worried about the prevalence of alcohol, the use of drugs, how many different types are available, and about drugs in the school system. This is an issue that many people feel unsure of how to help with and would welcome more knowledge about ways to be part of the solution.

Connected to safety, people want a stable, caring, and well-funded police department. They express wanting to get reports from the police department so they have some sense of the safety in the community, particularly related to drugs and break-ins.

Our residents want walkable areas and a higher sense of safety on the roads and on the trails so they can be more active. They're concerned that children don’t have safe environments for play, and recommend better publicizing of our public spaces and activities so people know how to be active and use them. Better lighting was also a suggestion, along with organized events and activities around physical activity, health, and wellness.

In Summary...

In each conversation, we asked people who they would trust to assist them in achieving their dreams and overcoming community challenges. Three key organizations came up in nearly every conversation: the Nashville Route 66 Business District, Putnam District Library, and Two or Three Together.

While people recognized that these are strong organizations, they also recognized that they are already doing many things. When asked what would need to happen in order for us to create the community we desire, people noted that individual engagement and participation would be essential. Also essential would be the consistent theme of growing new leaders, supporting them, and recognizing their efforts.

One participant summed up what is possible by saying, “Let’s keep bringing groups together, instead of “everybody doing their own thing. That’s what makes us a community...doing things together.”

None of these aspirations stand alone. Achieving one will help us to achieve another. It is the sweet spot in the middle we strive to become...together.