Sutter County Rising to the Challenge: A Report of the Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries

Posted by Amy Garmer on July 18, 2017 at 8:43 AM

The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries is pleased to announce the publication of Sutter County Rising to the Challenge: A Report of the Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries. This report is the result of a collaboration with the Sutter County Library (SCL) California. The Sutter County Dialogue is the second in a series of Aspen Institute dialogues across the country that are designed to spark new thinking and action to transform libraries for the 21st century.


SCL serves a population of 96,463 county residents through four branches in mostly rural Sutter County, California, north of Sacramento. Like many other communities with a historically agriculture-driven economy and way of life, Sutter County is grappling with 21st century challenges and issues of great importance to the county’s future: jobs and economic development, education and career readiness, youth opportunities and “brain drain,” growing wealth gaps, individual and community health, and civic engagement in a diversifying community. These are challenges that public libraries across the country are responding to as they work with their communities to develop and deploy new programs and services that meet changing community needs.


This report provides a roadmap for Sutter County and other communities like it. It is based on the Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries which brought together county elected officials, county and city chief administrative officers, the heads of key social service agencies, local nonprofit leaders, the county museum director, chamber of commerce and economic development agency leaders, the superintendent of county schools, and library leaders from Sutter County as well as Sacramento, Sonoma County and the California state library to address strategic opportunities for leveraging public libraries to advance community goals and priorities. The project included a series of community engagement workshops, a library survey, an evening program with keynote speaker Dr. Norman Jacknis and a day-long leadership roundtable. See the Acknowledgements page in the report for a complete list of participants.


Sutter County Rising to the Challenge includes six recommendations for action that emerged from the leadership roundtable and details initial steps on a path forward for developing community-library partnerships, with tips for forming successful partnerships. The recommendations include:

  • Maximize space in the library (rec. 1) and create new library spaces in the community (rec. 2) by leveraging the trend in “pop-up” programs and services appearing in new places.
  • Use the library’s new gigabit broadband capacity to expand the library’s assets and reach of educational programs, while exploring funding through Community Development Block Grants to incorporate these new library services in currently unused community spaces (rec. 3).
  • Develop partnerships with the workforce development sector, including the library as a member of a new workforce development committee designed to better coordinate resources, programs and services (rec. 4).
  • Partner with social service agencies to embed service providers in the library as a means to improve community outreach to targeted populations (rec. 5).
  • Use the library’s 100th anniversary celebration to launch new community engagement initiatives and plan for the future (rec. 6).


Sutter County Rising to the Challenge was officially presented to SCL Director James Ochsner and community leaders gathered in Yuba City, California on May 26 for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Sutter County Library. The anniversary celebration presented a nice occasion for introducing the report and its vision for the library’s future--simultaneously an opportunity to look back at the community’s success in building a strong institution for education and learning and also an invitation to the community to look forward and work with the library as it re-envisions itself for the future.

With the strong vision of its library leadership and the commitment of civic and elected leaders to work together to create a new narrative for the county’s future, Sutter County has been an excellent partner for the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries.


To learn more about the issues and opportunities discussed in Sutter County, tips for forming successful partnerships and Norman Jacknis’ keynote presentation of six trends in digital technologies that are creating new opportunities for public libraries, download and read the report here.


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