Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries


In partnership with the Sutter County Library, the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries convened a countywide, multi-stakeholder forum on public libraries in Yuba City, California, on November 16-17, 2016. The Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries was designed to address the strategic opportunities presented by the changing role of public libraries and to showcase models through which civic, government, business, education, and other community leaders working together can leverage libraries as platforms for building more knowledgeable, healthy, and sustainable communities.

About Sutter County, California

Community Type: Rural County | Population: 96,463 (2010 US Census) White 50.4%, Black or African American 2%, Asian 14.4%, Hispanic or Latino 28.8%, American Indian or Alaskan Native 1.4% and Other 5.9% | Median Age: 34 | Household Income: $52,000 | Educational Attainment: 78.5% High School Graduates or Higher | Poverty: 17.5% of individuals have incomes below the poverty level | Unemployment: 8%

About the Sutter County Library

The Sutter County Library is a department of county government. It provides library services to all residents of Yuba City and Sutter County through four branches: a main branch in Yuba City and three branches in the rural communities of Live Oak (Barber Branch), Rio Oso (Browns Branch), and Sutter (Sutter Branch). The library is led by Library Director James Ochsner and a small, dedicated staff with additional volunteers. Ochsner is currently the only staff member with a Master’s of Library Information Science (MLIS) degree. As a department of county government, the library’s funding comes primarily from county general revenues. Currently, the Sutter County Library has a small but active Friends group that supports the library in many ways, including the management of used book sales at the library. In January 2016, the library entered the era of high-speed broadband when it connected to the state’s CENIC (Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California) network. This service has enabled the library to offer a more robust online platform and to think about new opportunities and innovations that can be created for residents now that the library is equipped with a gigabit of bandwidth.

Sutter County Dialogue Format

The Sutter County Dialogue included a series of community engagement workshops, a survey of library use and satisfaction, an evening program featuring a keynote presentation, and a one-day moderated leadership roundtable.

Community Engagement Workshops and Library Survey: The Sutter County Library conducted a series of community planning workshops prior to the November Dialogue event and augmented these workshops with a paper and online-based survey of library users. The goal of both the workshops and the survey was to engage county residents more broadly and hear directly from them about their aspirations, priorities, and goals for the county. The library developed the workshops in consultation with the Aspen Institute and drew from Sacramento Public Library for assistance with skilled facilitation. A total of four workshops were held from late September through early November. Each workshop sought to engage a different segment of the population, including youth, a racially and ethnically diverse group of residents, residents with deep roots in the community and residents highly engaged with Sutter County’s cultural institutions.  

Public Program: The Dialogue began with a public program at Boyd Hall (a public auditorium operated by the Sutter County schools) on a Wednesday evening from 5:30-7:00 pm that was open to the public and featured a keynote speaker and Q&A among participants and the audience. The keynote speaker was Norman Jacknis, PhD, a technologist with deep experience in local government and libraries who currently serves as an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York, as president of the Metro New York Library Council, and as a senior fellow at the Intelligent Community Forum where he has led the forum’s Rural Imperative, working with communities to develop future-oriented economic growth strategies. In his keynote presentation to the Sutter County Dialogue, Jacknis presented seven trends in technology that are opening up corresponding opportunities for communities and their libraries. He emphasized that libraries do not exist in isolation from the rest of the world and they need to lay the foundation now for where they need to be in the future. The purpose of the public program was to lay a foundation for discussion of opportunities and aspirations at the leadership roundtable the next day by bring in new ideas from an expert on technology and rural communities.

Leadership Roundtable: The following day, 24 leaders from across the county and the state addressed four key questions:

  1. What kind of community do we want?
  2. What changes are necessary to make this vision a reality?
  3. How can the Sutter County Library help to bring about this transition and achieve this vision?
  4. How can other stakeholders in the community engage and collaborate with the library to transform the library and strengthen the community, now and in the years ahead?

Break-out Sessions: The break-out groups focused on three sets of issues that were identified as priorities for the County: Youth and Education, Economic and Workforce Development, Civic and Social Development. Participants were asked to draw from the morning discussion and trends identified in the keynote “to identify 1-2 opportunities (proposals) to strengthen the healthy and vitality of the community 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 already exist in the community and how they may be used in new ways?
  • What role could the library 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

Joaquin Alvarado, Chief Executive Officer, The Center for Investigative Reporting (San Francisco, California)

Rinky Basi, Director, Sutter County One Stop

Michele Blake, Director, Sutter County Children & Families Commission 

Curtis R. Coad, Interim County Administrator, Sutter County Government Office

Tammy Cronin, Project Leader, Valley Vision (Sacramento, California)

Baljinder Dhillon, Superintendent, Sutter County Superintendent of Schools

Dan Flores, Supervisor, Sutter County Board of Supervisors 

Darin Gale, Economic Growth & Public Affairs , City of Yuba City

Ernest Garcia, President, North Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

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

Dominique Harrison, Project Manager, Communications & Society Program, The Aspen Institute

Susan Hildreth, Professor of Practice, University of Washington Information School (Seattle, Washington)

Jessica Hougen, Sutter County Museum Director, Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County

Norman Jacknis, President, Metropolitan New York Library Council and Adjunct Professor, Columbia University (New York, New York)

Miles Johnson, Consultant, Miles and Associates, The Planning Company

Jean Jordan, County Counsel, Sutter County Government Office

Steve Kroeger, City Manager, City of Yuba City

Brett Lear, Library Director, Sonoma County Library (Santa Rosa, California)

Greg Lucas, State Librarian of California, California State Library (Sacramento, California)

Ben Moody, President, Sutter Youth Organization

James Ochsner, Director of Library Services, Sutter County Library

Nancy O'Hara, Director, Health and Human Services for Sutter County

Todd Retzloff, County Assessor, Sutter County Government Office

Rivkah Sass, Executive Director, Sacramento Public Library (Sacramento, California)

Rikki Shaffer, Chief Executive Officer, Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce


Linda Baker, Board Member, Friends of Sutter County Library

Kristin Belden, Chief of Staff, The Center for Investigative Reporting

Cole Goins, Senior Manager, Engagement and Community Collaborations, The Center for Investigative Reporting

Shirley Shimizu, Library Supporter

Angie Thoo, Instructional Aide, Andros Karperos School 


Overview of Key Issues & Themes

See Sutter County Rising to the Challenge, the Report of the Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries for complete report.

The themes of the keynote presentation – new technology, laying the foundation for the future, and placing the library at the table with other community organizations—set the tone for thinking about how these trends and opportunities apply to the issues of concern and priorities of Sutter County residents.

After identifying goals and priorities for the community (questions 1 & 2 noted above), participants identified the following roles, attributes and functions for the Sutter County Library, some of which the library already performs and provides, and others that will require adaptation, transformation and new competencies at the library:

  • A source for information on human capital in the community.
  • A partner with schools and parents in education.
  • A hub for workforce development and college and career readiness.
  • An access point for higher education and center for lifelong learning.
  • A safe and trusted “third place” for youth.
  • Filling technology gaps in the community.
  • Connecting people to resources to live healthier lives. 
  • Ensuring equity in access.
  • An innovation center in the community.


The following are the key recommendations made by the leadership roundtable:

Recommendation #1: Maximize space in the library.

Recommendation #2: Create new library spaces in the community.

Recommendation #3: Use technology to expand the library’s assets and the reach of educational programs on a broad spectrum of topics.

Recommendation #4: Develop partnerships with the workforce development sector.

Recommendation #5: Partner with social service organizations to improve community outreach to target populations and embed service providers in the library.

Recommendation #6: Use the Sutter County Library 100th anniversary year to launch new community engagement initiatives and plan for the future.

Ongoing Efforts

Since the Sutter County Library Dialogue on Public Libraries took place in November 2016, the Sutter County Library has moved forward to advance some of the recommendations in this report. New initiatives with the library and other community partners are in various stages of development.

  • Recommendation #6 in the report was to take advantage of the library’s 100th year anniversary. The Sutter County Library in partnership with the Friends of the Sutter County Library developed a steering committee to plan and execute the events and programs surrounding the anniversary. The celebration took place on May 26, 2017.
  • Leaders at the Sutter County Public Schools and Sutter County Library have met to discuss library support of a grant for which the school system plans to apply.
  • One Stop director has met with library staff several times and the library has hosted a couple of One Stop workshops.
  • A fairly new focus of the library’s Workforce Investment Opportunities Act (WIOA) Title II Adult Literacy Grant is on workforce development. This has opened up opportunities to work with the local superintendent of schools adult education coordinators and the Local Workforce Development Board.
  • A planning committee was formed to move along projects such as the Museum exhibit opening and a 100 year anniversary celebration planned for October 14. This committee was instrumental in developing the new logo.
  • The library’s Live Oak Branch received an exterior face lift, with the interior to be worked on in the coming fiscal year.
  • The Library became an outlet for the sale of Yuba Sutter Transit bus passes.

Sutter County Dialogue Group Photo


Materials and Document Database

Sutter County Rising to the Challenge

Norman Jacknis Presentation

Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries Photos

*Other materials can be found in the Resources section.



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