The Grand Opportunity in Houston Public Libraries

Posted by Amy Garmer on May 08, 2019 at 10:40 AM

The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries and the Houston Public Library today released a report on how public and private stakeholders can more effectively use libraries to improve and enhance the lives of Houston’s residents. The Grand Opportunity: Creating Community, Equity and Innovation with Houston Public Libraries is the report of the Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries, a partnership between the Aspen Institute and the Houston Public Library that brought together a group of library, government, nonprofit, academic and business leaders to explore and champion new thinking on the role of public libraries in the city of Houston.

The Houston Dialogue took place two and a half months after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, and the Dialogue report comes out this week as the city celebrates the reopening of the McGovern-Stella Link Library Branch that is one of seven libraries damaged by the flood and the first to reopen.

The report unveils a set of opportunities and recommendations for building library partnerships citywide that include participation in the advancement of key community priorities that include new family-centered initiatives, workforce readiness, and libraries serving as civic and information hubs. 

The Grand Opportunity report shows how Houston Public Library can work with community partners to expand information services as well as strengthen the uses of social media and the city’s media infrastructure. This also includes leveraging the physical infrastructure of the library across the city to provide important touchpoints for access and engagement to develop important literacies (i.e. workforce, health, etc.) and financial and civic empowerment. The report adds to the considerable body of work conducted by city agencies and local partners to create a roadmap to strengthen opportunity, equity and innovative problem-solving across Houston.

Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, Director of the Houston Public Library, commented on the value of the Dialogue to the city: “These stakeholders came together for the Houston Dialogue after Hurricane Harvey to gain a broader understanding of what our different organizations were doing to respond. And, more significantly, to generate ideas to help us work collectively to increase the information pipeline and improve the flow of communication between organizations. We all agreed that establishing an enhanced communication model would help us to be better prepared for the next crisis and could be helpful for addressing the smaller crises that individuals and families confront in Houston everyday.”

The report highlights key insights from the conversation, which included the important role that public libraries can play in closing information and communication gaps among residents and addressing the needs of vulnerable populations and of Latino and immigrant communities in the city.

The report also calls for thinking creatively about community engagement, suggesting new and deeper partnerships to boost family literacy programs and across the city’s workforce continuum, with schools of social work at local colleges and universities, and with Houston Independent School District (HISD) and Houston media outlets.

With an emphasis on local empowerment and solutions, the report identifies six recommendations for libraries and their communities to work more effectively together, and three practical projects to get started on meaningful cross-sector collaboration.

At a time of very low public trust in institutions of all kinds, the high level of trust that people place in their public libraries makes the library an important asset in the city. The Houston Dialogue provides an excellent model for other cities to unlock the value in their public libraries. The Houston Public Library plans to reconvene participants from the original Dialogue later this year to further strengthen relationships, and to explore and advance partnership and implementation built upon the framework developed at the Dialogue and reflected in the report. 

To read the complete report, view the list of participants, and learn more about the Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries, go to:


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