The Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is focused on advancing the work that public libraries are doing to address community challenges and to transform for the digital age. As part of its work, between 2016 and 2017, the Aspen Institute will convene five (5) dialogues in cities across the country. Each public dialogue will test and develop a variety of models for engaging state and local leaders and community partners to advance new thinking about the role of public libraries.
Two pilot dialogues were held to convene public and private sector leaders with library leaders to address new thinking, strategic opportunities, and challenges in aligning the programs and services of public libraries with the priorities of their communities. The first was a Connecticut state-wide dialogue held in Hartford in April 2015 hosted by the Aspen Institute in partnership with the Connecticut State Library. The second was an independent initiative organized by the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka, Kansas.
The Connecticut Dialogue on Public Libraries
Download the report of the Connecticut Dialogue, Connecticut Rising to the Challenge HERE.
On April 13, 2015, nearly 100 library leaders, state and local policy makers, and civic partners convened at the Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford to explore the opportunities for working more closely and more intentionally with Connecticut’s public libraries. The discussions highlighted a series of opportunities for leveraging the critical assets that libraries bring to their communities while addressing the issue of library sustainability in the face of fiscal challenges.
The pilot convening was conducted in partnership with the Connecticut State Library. The day-long event consisted of a morning program featuring two panels of diverse, high level, Connecticut leaders from the library, philanthropy, government, education, health care and technology fields. Panelists discussed current examples of effective interactions between public libraries and other state and local agencies delivering services including health care, education, and citizenship services. Approximately 70 audience members attended the morning panel sessions and a luncheon that followed featuring a keynote by Governor Dannel P. Malloy.
The afternoon featured a moderated roundtable, consisting of some of the morning panelists and additional leaders from the same broad cross-section of leaders of institutions and organizations in the in the state (28 people in all). The roundtable expounded upon ideas from the morning sessions, with the intention of making concrete plans for engaging libraries in Connecticut more fully with their communities – and vice versa. Perhaps unsurprisingly in a time of intense debate about its state budget, the conversation focused in part on the potential for libraries to offer services efficiently and complement the work of other agencies.
Follow-up activities include a session on libraries at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities annual meeting in October 2015 co-convened by the Connecticut Library Association and the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries.
Topeka & Shawnee County, Kansas
The Topeka Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) in Topeka, Kansas incorporated elements from the Rising to the Challenge vision report in a series of community conversations in the spring and summer of 2015. The conversations were co-convened with Heartland Visioning, a multi-year initiative that provides a community-wide forum to give voice to resident’s concerns and aspirations, verify community priorities, convene public and private partnerships and communicate with the public. The library used these community engagement events to seek community input as part of the library’s strategic planning process.
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