Aligning Library Services in Support of Community Goals
I believe that the future relevance and success of the public library is dependent upon the library’s deep knowledge and commitment to community growth and success. Although many libraries have had stated commitments to community priorities, I do not think that we have been disciplined or strategic in effectively deploying the library’s assets to support those priorities. The Aspen Institute’s report, Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries, provides a framework for integrating this deep community insight into the ongoing program of the library.
The report provides a discussion framework to identify ways communities can leverage investments in their libraries – essential public institutions – to forge new partnerships and build stronger communities, including four strategies for success. Aligning library services in support of community goals is possibly the most important strategy for success. Public libraries that align their services to support local community goals will find the greatest opportunities for success in the years ahead. This will require a level of flexibility and adaptability to change as community needs change. It will also require collaboration among libraries, policy makers, and community partners to redefine the role of libraries as institutions that inspire learning, drive development, grow social capital, and create opportunities.
Enabling all libraries to fulfill their new roles will require library leaders, policy makers, and community stakeholders to re-envision the public library and take advantage of the opportunities it offers. I would encourage library staff, trustees, community supporters and policymakers to work together. Leadership is needed across the community, from elected officials, government leadership staff, business and civic leaders, and libraries themselves to build communities and public libraries that thrive and succeed together. Vision is a critical component of leadership, and every community needs a vision and a strategic plan for how to work with the public library to directly align the library and its work with the community’s educational, economic, and other key goals. The library must have input from all stakeholder groups in the community. The report can provide the framework for critical conversations that will create the commitment to embed our libraries in our communities. That action will ensure both the well-being of the community and the library.