Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries


The Aspen Institute, in partnership with the Colorado State Library (an office of the Colorado Department of Education) convened a statewide, multi-stakeholder forum on May 24-25, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. The Aspen Institute Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries was designed to identify strategic opportunities presented by the state’s public libraries to create practical solutions for using the infrastructure and expertise of public libraries to build more resilient communities in Colorado.

About Colorado

Community Type: State| Population: 5,540,545 (2016 estimates) White 87.5%, Black or African American 4.5%, Asian 3.3%, Hispanic or Latino 21.3%, American Indian or Alaskan Native 1.6%, and Other 4.2% | Median Age: 36 | Household Income: $62,520 | Educational Attainment: 91.1% High School Graduates or Higher (persons aged 25 years +)| Poverty: 11% of individuals have incomes below the poverty level | Unemployment: 2.9% *

*These statistics are state averages and medians and may vary widely across different parts of the state and in urban vs. rural communities.

About the Colorado State Library

The Colorado State Library (CSL) is a division of the Colorado Department of Education. It provides leadership and expertise in developing library-related policies, activities, and assistance for school, public, academic, and special libraries. The library also administers different grants on a yearly basis to eligible libraries in Colorado. The goal of the CSL is to improve the ability of libraries to provide quality services to all Coloradans. CSL’s key activities are defined in the Library Law section of state statutes and further refined by goals and strategies set forth in the statewide strategic plan for libraries and the five-year Library Services and Technology plan. The Colorado State Library is led by Commissioner Katy Anthes, Ph.D. and Assistant Commissioner Eugene Hainer. As a division of state government the library’s funding comes primarily from state and federal funds.

Aspen Institute Colorado Dialogue Format

The Aspen Institute Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries included an opening reception and dinner with a panel presentation and a one-day moderated leadership roundtable. The roundtable included a special session in conversation with Governor John Hickenlooper. Colorado Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes provided opening comments at the start of another plenary session.

Panel Presentation: The panel presentation took place on a Wednesday evening at the Wynkoop Brewing Company and featured three highly-regarded library directors from different regions of the state: Claudine Perrault, director of Estes Valley Library; Joseph Sanchez, director of Mesa County Libraries; and Pam Sandlian-Smith, director of Anythink Libraries (Front Range/Adams County). Each shared powerful stories about how they and their public libraries are responding to the physical, economic, and civic needs of their communities, and engaged the non-library participants with visions of how local libraries can build community and strengthen community resiliency. The purpose of the panel presentation was to showcase the leadership of and innovative work being done by public libraries across the state. The specific narratives focused on the leadership role of public libraries and librarians in response to natural disasters and the recovery process, rapid economic and demographic change, and the need to address the civic health of communities at a time of increasing political polarization.

Leadership Roundtable: The following day, 24 library leaders, state and local policymakers, business and civic partners met for the day-long discussion at the History Colorado Center. The agenda was structured around a 2016 study conducted by the office of Governor John Hickenlooper that examines what it takes to create more resilient communities.

The roundtable discussion addressed three key questions:

  • How do libraries help build resilient communities?
  • What changes are needed to strengthen the role of libraries in building resilient communities?
  • What can my networks and I do to help define and implement pathways for action?

The first session explored the drivers of and challenges to resiliency. In his opening remarks, Governor John Hickenlooper described the importance of public libraries by sharing his personal story of benefiting from public libraries at critical times in his life. Conversation with the Governor began to explore changes to strengthen role of libraries and how libraries can become more engaged in statewide initiatives. Session two looked more specifically at statewide priorities in education/learning and community development. In her remarks on education goals in Colorado, Katy Anthes reflected on the need to identify where in the ecosystem to strengthen existing bridges and where to build new bridges.

 The conversation that followed explored the building blocks of community resilience and an examination of the priorities and goals of Colorado communities in developing human, economic and social capital.

Break-out Sessions: The break-out groups focused on three sets of issues that were identified as priorities for Colorado: Youth & Education, Economic and Workforce Development, and Civic and Social Development. Participants were asked to draw from the morning discussions, trends identified in the readings, and to “identify 1-2 opportunities to strengthen the health and vitality of Colorado communities in the assigned area.” Each group was to answer the following questions:

  • What trends could work in your favor?
  • What kind of change is needed to make this happen? Consider what assets may already exist in communities and how they may be used in new ways.
  • What role could public libraries play in bringing about the change?
  • Who needs to be involved to make it happen?
  • What key results would be achieved? How would you measure success?

Participants in the Leadership Roundtable

Katy Anthes, Colorado Commissioner of Education, Colorado Department of Education

Clarke Becker, Director, Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium, Colorado Department of Labor & Employment

Dan Cordova, Librarian, Colorado Supreme Court

Katherine Correll, Executive Director, Downtown Colorado, Inc.

Charlie Firestone, Executive Director, Communications and Society Program, The Aspen Institute

Laura Frank, President and General Manager, News, Rocky Mountain PBS

Joe Garcia, President, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

Amy Garmer, Director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, The Aspen Institute

Dan Gibbs, Commissioner, Summit Board of County Commissioners

Anthony E. Graves, Director of Regional Affairs, Office of Mayor Michael B. Hancock, City and County of Denver

David Greenberg, Vice Chancellor, Institutional Partnerships, University of Denver

Eugene Hainer, Assistant Commissioner, Colorado State Library

Irv Halter, Executive Director, State of Colorado, Department of Local Affairs

Jesse Henning, Executive Director, Garfield County Libraries

John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado, State of Colorado  

Dustin Hodge, Principal, Hodge Media Group

Margaret Hunt, Director, Colorado Creative Industries

Michelle Jeske, City Librarian, Denver Public Library

Claudine Perrault, Director, Estes Valley Library

Randy Pye, Managing Principal, FulcrumOne

Connie Rule, Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Colorado

Joseph Sanchez, Library Director, Mesa County Libraries

Pam Sandlian-Smith, Director, Anythink Libraries

Chip Taylor, Executive Director, Colorado Counties, Inc.

Ann Terry, Executive Director, Special District Association

Key Recommendations

There was general agreement that the State Library would be instrumental in leading or advancing the recommendations. Dialogue participants identified four projects from their break-out session work that they could undertake, in collaboration with the State Library, as a means to address critical issues and opportunities identified during the dialogue. These include:

  • Project 1: Library in a Box responds to the need for modeling innovative and effective library services and communicating these successes to other libraries, the community and the media.
  • Project 2: Youth Voices addresses the challenges of getting youth into libraries to access the services available to them, giving youth a strong voice in the community and showing the impact of the library’s work to the community.
  • Project 3: Workforce Training Modules Pilot uses the inherent connectivity of libraries to create a living database of professional training modules that would be accessible to all Colorado libraries.
  • Project 4: Civic Umbrella uses the library’s reputation for being neutral and its capability as a convener and facilitator to foster the exchange of ideas, relationship building and civic literacy in ways that develop trust among community members. Such trust is needed for resiliency in times of crisis.

Ongoing Efforts

Since the adjournment of the Aspen Institute Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries, the Colorado State Library has begun to advance these four projects. More information can be found in the report and by contacting the Colorado State Library.

Aspen Institute Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries Group Photo

Materials and Document Database


Libraries: Building Community Resilience In Colorado

Panel Presentation

Key Remarks by Governor John Hickenlooper

Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries Photos

*Other materials can be found in the Resources section.

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