Learning Circles at Prince William Public Libraries Prince William, Virginia
Prince William Public Libraries (PWPL) launched the P3 Project at Bull Run Library in Manassas, Virginia – an urban and diverse community located 30 miles outside of Washington, D.C. The library chose to implement learning circles to supplement the adult literacy and English language programming it offers in collaboration with Literacy Volunteers of America, Prince William (LVA-PW). On the topic of preparing for a job search, its first learning circle was facilitated by an LVA-PW volunteer with resources and tech support provided by library staff.
PWPL offered its first learning circle in the fall of 2020. Because of the challenges presented by the pandemic, the learning circle, and all subsequent learning circles, was offered virtually. While evaluations and feedback from participants were positive, it was difficult for adults to fully commit to the learning circle sessions.
To appeal to more people, PWPL began offering a broader array of learning circle topics and had success with a well-attended health literacy circle, conducted virtually. Learning circle resource “kits” on topics such as financial literacy and citizenship were developed in preparation for the return of in-person learning circles. The kits included information about circle facilitation and upgraded device-lending policies and protocols.
Interest in learning circles has expanded to PWPL’s other 11 branches, including a circle related to its “100 Books Before Graduation” challenge, a Watercolor Painting circle, and one focused on “Creating with Web Resources and Makerspaces.” To support staff, PWPL began offering system wide training to clarify how learning circles differ from classroom instruction and emphasize the importance of ongoing support through multiple check-ins to help patrons join and engage in the circle.
By offering many types of learning circles to different age groups and targeted audiences in the greater Prince William community, PWPL has continued to see growing success and interest in this practice.