Anythink Dialogue on Public Libraries
On a late summer afternoon in September, a group of 30 state and local elected officials, business leaders and civic movers and shakers joined representatives from the Anythink Libraries Board of Trustees, Foundation and leadership team to explore ways in which public libraries can help build stronger communities. The event, Anythink Dialogue on Public Libraries, was held at Anythink’s flagship Wright Farms branch on September 11, a date of remembrance for all Americans and a fitting one for discussions about public cooperation for the common good. The gathering was inspired by the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries and sponsored by the Anythink Foundation. The theme of the event was community resilience.
Iain Hyde, deputy director of the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office gave a presentation to the group that highlighted the many lessons learned after the state’s recent spate of devastating floods and wildfires. Those improved disaster response and preparedness efforts are shared through a recovery and resiliency collaborative of 18 cities and counties throughout the state collaborating with a number of local organizations and state and federal agencies. In many of those natural emergencies, public libraries became operations headquarters, keeping their doors open as safe places for neighbors to gather, offering telephone and internet access, public information briefings and emergency supply depots.
Beyond natural disasters and other emergencies, do libraries have an ongoing role in helping make communities stronger, happier and healthier? “Absolutely!” said Mr. Hyde, answering his own question. He pointed out how the new system of public library parks in Medellin, Colombia, for instance, have not only connected far-flung, low-income neighborhoods to the rest of the city, but have become information and entrepreneurship centers, as well as beautiful cultural event spaces and sources of deep civic pride. Public libraries everywhere are in a unique position to connect people with resources, Mr. Hyde continued. Libraries bridge economic gaps and social inequities. Besides acting as information hubs, libraries can provide space and expertise to help individuals learn new skills and groups to meet, organize, discuss and create common goals. Simply providing a safe and welcoming “third place” for people to gather, relax and refresh adds huge social value to a community.
Earlier in September, Anythink’s Board of Trustees had identified three key strategic areas that culminated into the Anythink 2018-2020 Strategic Plan released in November 2017:
- COMMUNITY: Anythink builds community by connecting people, organizations and agencies with ideas and each other.
- CULTURE: Anythink is a cultural and learning destination for Colorado.
- CAREER: Anythink supports the entrepreneurial spirit of the community.
Dialogue attendees had an opportunity to comment on these three areas, each of which respond to leading actionable trends revealed through extensive surveying of residents in Anythink’s service area, the fast-growing Adams County, Colorado. The comments and lively discussions that arose around each initiative were a perfect segue to the topic of community resiliency.
The convening ended with a call for Anythink to be the catalyst for innovation in the community, which became the vision statement for the new strategic plan. By being this catalyst for innovation in our community, our ultimate results are that:
- People are happy, healthy and safe
- People are enriched by learning and culture
- People are prosperous and creative