Future of Libraries: 2016 in Review and 2017 Preview

Posted by Amy Garmer on December 22, 2016 at 8:59 AM

The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries launched a series of initiatives in 2016 that are creating new opportunities and resources for transforming public libraries. As the year comes to a close, we are grateful to all those library and community champions who have worked with us over the past year and look ahead to 2017, and a slate of exciting activities to expand this network of champions as we take the Dialogue to new communities across the country. In the spirit of Shakespeare’s observation that “what is past is prologue,” the Communications and Society Program is pleased to share with our friends this brief summary of our Dialogue on Public Libraries activities of the past year and a preview of work to come in 2017.

The Dialogue on Public Libraries kicked off 2016 with the launch of the Action Guide for Re-Envisioning Your Public Library and new LibraryVision.org website, two new resources that have proven quite instrumental in our work to grow a community of practice around the library vision and “people-place-platform” framework detailed in the Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries report. To date, the Action Guide has been downloaded 1,940 times (as of December 20) and has reached professionals in more than 27 countries. Individual libraries across the country report using the Action Guide in many ways—here is a sampling of how it is being used:

  • As a first step in strategic planning, the activities in the Action Guide give libraries a better understanding of their audiences and opportunities.
  • Library boards become engaged working through the various activities within the Action Guide helping board members to identify more possibilities for the library in the community, developing strategies to meet community needs, and to better understand the changing role and reach of the library in the digital age.
  • The Action Guide provides preparation for convening community conversations.
  • For capital campaigns, the Action Guide assists in evaluating the current level of activity and support for the library and to determine goals and action steps as well as for talking points to use in community outreach.

The Action Guide was just the first of an exciting new set of initiatives launched this year. Notably, the Dialogue launched a new series of model community-library dialogues. The Winter Park Library Dialogue took place in Winter Park, Florida, in June and the Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries took place in November in Yuba City, California—each included public programming and a signature moderated leadership roundtable that yielded a specific plan of action for the community to advance the transformation of its library. The Winter Park participants are already at work implementing recommendations from the dialogue, including the development of a new vision statement (a process spearheaded by the library’s board of trustees) and planning for a city-wide educators’ forum that will bring together a diverse group of leaders of educational and learning organizations from across the city to discuss ways to strengthen the learning environment for people of all ages. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for early February and will be hosted by Valencia Community College.

A report of the Sutter County Dialogue will be completed and presented to the community in early 2017, although participants in the dialogue are not waiting to get started on initiatives recommended by the leadership roundtable. Meetings are taking place to plan for activity in 2017, including a celebration of 100 years of the Sutter County Library which will focus as much on sustainability looking forward as it will on celebrating the past.

In the final weeks of 2016, the Dialogue convened planning meetings for the next two library dialogues which will take place in spring 2017. These include a citywide dialogue in Houston, Texas in partnership with the Houston Public Library and a statewide dialogue in Colorado, in partnership with the Colorado State Library. We will post information about each community dialogue on the LibraryVision.org website and share additional information on our social media channels. Visit the LibraryVision.org website to learn more.

In partnership with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the Dialogue launched the first nationwide survey of local government managers’ perceptions and expectations for libraries in six years. While we presented preliminary findings to city and county managers at the ICMA annual conference in Kansas City in September, we will release the final survey results in January 2017 and discuss some of the findings at our upcoming session at the ALA Midwinter Conference in Atlanta on Sunday, January 22.

Finally, in a year of debuting new activities, we also launched a newsletter for members of the LibraryVision.org community (join today on the website so you don’t miss future issues), our first podcast and our first webinar.

The Communications and Society Program would like to extend our thanks to the Dialogue’s fellow Susan Hildreth, Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the University of Washington School of Information, to Dialogue advisor Maureen Sullivan, and to other Dialogue ambassadors who brought the Dialogue vision and resources to a diverse group of audiences in the US and abroad. We were pleased to have the Aspen Institute Dialogue’s work featured in so many venues, including the American Library Association meetings in Boston and Orlando, the biennial meeting of the Public Library Association in Denver, DPLA Fest in Washington, DC, ICMA in Kansas City, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions in Columbus, OH, and in state and regional associations across the country.

The Dialogue is especially indebted to our partners in communities and states that are piloting new applications of the vision and Action Guide and sharing this work with others. While there are too many to name in this short paragraph, we would like to call out in particular the Connecticut State Library, which initiated a new pilot using the Action Guide in a number of Connecticut communities, and the North Carolina State Library, which funded and convened a workshop to develop a facilitator’s guide for librarians to use the Action Guide. We invite you to join the Library Vision community at www.LibraryVision.org where we will be inviting and sharing stories and resources to advance the transformation and long-term sustainability of public libraries in the year ahead.

 Photos from the Winter Park Library Dialogue 

Photo from the Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries