Pages tagged "Advocacy"

Future of Libraries: 2016 in Review and 2017 Preview

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 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 website and share additional information on our social media channels. Visit the 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 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 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.

Winter Park Rising to the Challenge: First Report in New Community Dialogue Series

The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries is pleased to announce publication of Winter Park Rising to the Challenge: A Report of the Winter Park Library Dialogue. This report is the result of a collaboration with the Winter Park Public Library and is available on the Winter Park Public Library website at

The Winter Park Library Dialogue is the first in a new series of dialogues across the country that are designed to spark new thinking and action to transform libraries for the 21st century. Winter Park, a city of approximately 28,000 residents that borders Orlando, was a natural partner for our first community dialogue in this series because of its insightful and innovative library leadership and the strong support and interest of community leaders from all sectors.

In his Foreword to the new report, Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary states how well-planned investments in public libraries can create a competitive advantage for the community:

“This report provides the beginning of a roadmap for Winter Park, and perhaps a blueprint for other communities who must reinvest in their assets to remain relevant in a hyper-dynamic marketplace wherein all municipalities are competing with one another to attract and retain the best and brightest residents, businesses and guests. …We should be bringing out of the ground an experiential library whose very design, as well as the opportunities within, inspires our community members to seek growth.”

Winter Park Rising to the Challenge discusses developments in technology, education and society that will shape the needs of the Winter Park community in the near term, and the opportunities these developments create for the library to deepen its engagement with and service to the community. The report highlights four key recommendations for action by the library and the community, with the report detailing how each recommendation can move forward to action. 

  1. Create and communicate the new vision for the Winter Park Public Library.
  2. Define the public library as a community priority.
  3. Bring diverse expertise and financial and sustainable resources to partner with the library.
  4. Brand the library as a platform for community learning and development, collaborate with users, and define the scope of library programs and services.

 Participants from the Dialogue are already working to implement specific recommendations in this report.

Earlier this week, members of the WPPL board of trustees and WPPL staff attended a workshop, hosted by Board of Trustees Chair Marina Nice and led by Professor Katie Tagye of Valencia College’s Collaborative Design Center, to explore and develop a vision statement for the Winter Park Public Library (Recommendation #1 in the report). Upon completion of the visioning work, Stacey Johnson, President, East Campus, Valencia College, has committed to convene an inaugural Educators’ Roundtable in Winter Park (see "A Path Forward" section in the report). With its strong leadership and community support for the library, Winter Park is a valuable model for other communities interested in transforming their civic institutions.

The Aspen Institute and LibraryVision website will continue to share developments as progress continues in Winter Park, including resources from which other communities may gain insights and inspiration to advance their own community library dialogues. Winter Park is a valuable model for other communities interested in transforming their civic institutions. 

Background on Winter Park, Florida and the Winter Park Library Dialogue

The Winter Park Public Library (WPPL) is an independent, 501(c)3 organization that serves residents and guests from a single, city-owned library building located near the government center. Shawn Shaffer, WPPL’s executive director, took over from her longtime predecessor Robert Melanson in 2013, arriving from the suburbs of Chicago. Shaffer has been recognized as a community leader by the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and, in 2016, as one the 25 most influential people in the city by Winter Park Magazine. WPPL receives approximately one third of its operating funds through a grant from the city, and must raise the rest of its funds through a combination of fundraising activities and other grants.

Winter Park residents and civic leaders show strong support for the public library and its mission, in part because city residents have long placed high value on education and culture, but also because library staff have actively cultivated community support through the development of outreach, programming and services that foster good relationships in the community. The Winter Park Library Dialogue received support from elected officials, city managers, and leaders from local businesses, foundations, community service organizations and educational institutions. Those who participated in the Dialogue are listed at the front of the report.

We found the community to be very enthusiastic about exploring ways that the library can evolve to improve opportunities for learning, innovation, civic discourse and social connection in Winter Park. The Aspen Institute worked with a planning committee of local leaders to design a two-day event tailored to the unique interests and circumstances of Winter Park.

The Winter Park Dialogue included a public discussion on the first day that featured keynote presentations by Richard Adler, president of People & Technology and a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, and John Bracken, Vice President for Media Innovation at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. A moderated roundtable discussion among 26 invited leaders from a variety of Winter Park’s educational, cultural and civic organizations, local government and businesses took place on the second day. 

Many civic leaders and residents were already primed to be thinking about the library’s place in the city’s future because a city-appointed Library Task Force had conducted a two-year study to examine the need for upgrading current library facilities. The Task Force’s efforts culminated in a June 2015 report that recommended the construction of a new library-events center.

The City had also appointed a citywide Vision Steering Committee that voted to approve its final report for the city on June 9, 2016, the day of the dialogue leadership roundtable. The chairman and vice chairman of the Winter Park Vision Steering Committee participated in the library dialogue. The Vision Winter Park report, which will be used by the city as it updates its Comprehensive Plan, provided a valuable set of insights and data for the Dialogue’s discussions about aligning the library’s programs and services with community priorities and goals.


Where the Edge and the Center Meet — Driving Innovation in New York City’s Public Libraries

Over a century ago, Andrew Carnegie endowed the City of New York with an extraordinary and everlasting gift—the construction of 100 neighborhood public libraries across all five of the City’s boroughs. There are now 207 branches, serving over 40.5 million visitors annually—more people than all the City’s cultural institutions and sports arenas combined!

Much like the growth experienced during Carnegie’s time, New York has again become a magnet and adopted home for millions of ‘strivers’—immigrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families, young families attracted to the city’s opportunities and vibrancy, and older residents who want to remain active members of community life. In a city undergoing unprecedented population growth with rapidly transitioning neighborhoods, newcomers and old timers alike look to their neighborhood libraries as centers of community life and front-line library staff as among the most trusted community resources.

For a 21st century New York City, with 41% of its population foreign born, 2.9 million residents without high speed internet access at home and an increasingly competitive knowledge economy, neighborhood libraries are the ideal ‘labs’ for innovation and experimentation to meet 21st Century needs. Neighborhood libraries are well-positioned to serve residents who are longing to connect to community life through cradle-to-grave lifelong learning and through social, cultural, intellectual and multi-generational activities.

Who better to serve as change agents than the front line library staff? These dedicated individuals interact with New Yorkers every day and, through these interactions, are acutely sensitive to local needs. Design expert Michelle Ha Tucker, speaking at the Aspen Institute’s August 2015 Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation, advised: “Think big-act small. Change happens by empowering people at the front-line level, and then creating lots of small experiments that eventually bubble up to a large scale movement”.

Among the key challenges in library innovation is this: How to empower, both financially and administratively, these local change agents and move the breakthroughs that occur at the edges into the whole organization. Over the past year, the Charles H. Revson Foundation has funded the New York Public Library’s Ideas Fund and the Brooklyn Public Library’s BKLN Incubator to drive innovation at the branch level while connecting these efforts to making change across the entire system.

New York Public Library Ideas Fund

In 2015, NYPL established the Ideas Fund to encourage staff driven innovation. The Ideas Fund is managed by a team of fourteen staff drawn from all levels of the organization. This management team, known as the Innovation Project Committee, received 127 exciting ideas in just one week.

Twenty-seven ideas were chosen for funding support in the initial round, including such pioneering programs as STEM workshops for special needs students, an LGBT+ film and discussion series for teens, guided walking tours of the Bronx, staging outdoor classrooms and circulating hardware. Three projects were selected for expansion to additional branches. These include local newspaper digitization, investigation of a tri-library museum pass program, and program enhancements to NYPL’s Family Literacy Centers.

This year the Ideas Fund has funded 32 new projects including a job search support program for the long-term unemployed, improvements in library accessibility and patron inclusion, and the creation of a mobile library.

Through the Ideas Fund website, Project Committee members are exposed to creative ideas from colleagues across the institution, and the site’s interactive forum remains active to promote communication and collaboration among staff across the whole system. In subsequent grant-making rounds, Committee members are regularly rotated and include former awardees to ensure that institutional change is ongoing. Successful ideas are scaled and replicated at additional NYPL branches.

Brooklyn Public Library BKLN Incubator

Building on our 2013 grant establishing Brooklyn Public Library’s Department of Outreach Services, which has successfully forged meaningful partnerships with community based organizations and city agencies to expand and enhance program services, Revson has most recently awarded a grant to BPL to expand its BKLN Incubator.

Piloted through an IMLS Sparks! Innovation Grant, the BKLN Incubator seeks to create a grant fund and support system that would encourage innovative practices at the branch level; to establish a mechanism for generating, testing and sharing program ideas; and to provide staff with professional development opportunities. The first call for submissions last November resulted in the submission of 30 ideas, representing the collaborative efforts of 51 staff members from 19 branches and 31 outside partners.

With Revson’s support, BPL is developing a much deeper and more rigorous set of training modules and research-and-development support for winning ideas, using outside consultants with expertise in community engagement, program development, service design and related fields. In the lead-up to the competition for funding, all interested staff will be introduced to basic skills in program design, budgeting and tools to help them create strong proposals and partnerships. A review committee composed of BPL staff will select between 5-8 winning projects, each receiving between $2,500 and $10,000. Specialized consultants will work with the winning teams to refine their projects, develop prototypes and measure results. BPL will also recruit and match staff mentors from across the system to support the teams.

The NYPL and BPL innovation funds are working creatively to address the innovation challenge. As stipulated at the Aspen Institute Roundtable last summer, “Libraries must foster a culture of innovation and look to ways to foster new thinking and experimentation at the edges of institutions and connect them with the center…. Innovation must become part of the library DNA.” The Revson Foundation is proud to partner with public libraries in the City to help re-imagine New York’s branch libraries and meet the innovation challenge of the 21st century.

Julie Sandorf


The Charles H. Revson Foundation




Kansas City Library/Community Partnerships Support Equality

Communities thrive when people have opportunity. Sadly, opportunity is not equally available, but partnerships between libraries and other community partners are helping to level the playing field.

The Kansas City Public Library (KCPL), a case in point, is working with community partners to bridge the “digital divide” — a civil rights issue of our time — which excludes those without access to computers, the Internet and digital literacy from looking for jobs, completing school assignments and more.

With funding from Mobile Beacon, KCPL has joined Literacy Kansas City and Connecting for Good to provide low-access neighborhoods with Internet hotspots in church basements or public housing. That’s crucial for Kansas City School District students, 70 percent of whom don’t have Internet access at home.

A sampling of other KCPL/community initiatives, all offered free of charge, includes alliances with:

  • The Financial Regulatory Investor Education Foundation to offer classes in banking basics and budgeting.
  • Kansas City Public Schools to host high school equivalency classes (GED).
  • Best Buy’s Geek Squad agents, who lead library-hosted workshops that teach teens about computer coding. 
  • H&R Block to create the Block Business and Career Center, a library service that provides consultation, computers and classes for entrepreneurs and job seekers of all ages. 
  • Truman Medical Center to host a health and wellness hub at a library branch that serves an economically disadvantaged area.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Kansas City civic team supports key city assets such as libraries, which are crucial to the cultural and educational landscape and advance our core focus areas of education and entrepreneurship. As a community partner, the Foundation provides library funding for public programming, speakers, forums, computer literacy training and public computer access.

While these partnerships are only a beginning — there is much more to be done in Kansas City and every community — they highlight how public libraries can become destinations where people of all ages are eager to go for learning and networking.


Gloria Jackson-Leathers

Director, Kansas City Civic Engagement Program

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation




Libraries are Bridging the Digital Divide in Cities

Digital literacy is no longer a choice; access to high-speed Internet is essential for Americans to do everything from finding a job to applying for college to gaining health care coverage. Yet according to a recent analysis by Pew Research, 5 million households with school-aged children still do not have access to high-speed broadband at home.

Cities understand the vital importance of providing broadband access to our residents in our libraries. For many low-income households—a disproportionate number of which are black and Hispanic—libraries provide the only source of access to computers and the Internet. To bridge the digital divide, libraries are often the only provider offering free and equitable access to all the tools and resources that the Internet provides.

Broadband access has never been more important for our residents. Cities are embracing civic innovation more than ever before. Open data platforms are making information from city governments more accessible and useful. The private sector is embracing civic technology and we are seeing new apps that can do everything from connecting users to public health services to improving 911 response.

Our future depends on making sure that the children in those 5 million households won’t be left behind as urban spaces evolve into cities of the future. Libraries have always been keepers and curators of the world’s knowledge, and today are utilizing technology to democratize access to information in ways that were unthinkable even two decades ago. As libraries align their offerings in service to these goals, cities must continue to support and nurture their libraries to ensure that all of their residents have the same opportunities to succeed in a digital world.

Clarence E. Anthony

Executive Director

The National League of Cities


On Open Doors, Community and Public Libraries

In mid-August 2014, Scott Bonner performed an ordinary yet remarkable act: Bonner opened the doors of the public library and invited members of the community to come inside.  This was an ordinary act because librarians have been performing this simple gesture of welcome and inclusion for as long as there have been public libraries. It is what they do.

But it was also a remarkable act because Bonner is the director of the public library in Ferguson, Missouri, and August 2014 was no ordinary time in a town beset by civil unrest in the wake of a police shooting. With this simple gesture, Bonner and his colleagues let the community and the nation know that Ferguson’s public library exists to serve and support the community; that the library can be, and often is, the center of community, a place like no other for learning, engagement and meeting the needs of the community. It is who they are.

Libraries of all kinds and their communities are facing a variety of challenges, from significant changes in populations and local economies to advances in digital technologies. This requires new thinking, relationships and actions informed by ongoing dialogue about the role of the library in the community. While the library’s mission to welcome and serve all members of the public and to provide access to knowledge, learning and civic engagement is not changing, the ways that libraries go about fulfilling this mission is changing and will continue to do so.

In the report Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries, the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries put forth a renewed vision of the public library built upon its three critical assets of people, place and platform. It also calls upon community leaders from all sectors to work with their libraries to align library programs and services with community priorities, to provide access to content in all formats, to ensure the sustainability of libraries and to cultivate leadership in libraries and the community.

Today, the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries is pleased to release the Action Guide for Re-Envisioning your Public Library, a set of resources to help library and community leaders use the Rising to the Challenge report to prepare for and convene an ongoing community dialogue and to take action to re-envision their own public library. The Action Guide has been field-tested by 23 public libraries during a pilot phase in Fall 2015.

The Aspen Institute Dialogue is launching a new website,, as a companion resource to the action guide. We welcome you to visit the site and invite you to explore and join the Library Vision community (MLS not required!). Community members have access to the Action Guide, a variety of additional resources including insightful articles, PowerPoint slides, short videos, success stories from libraries across the country and first notice of upcoming webinars and events, as well as access to additional resources developed going forward.

Most importantly, members can engage with a community of library innovators and practitioners across the country who are leading efforts to work with civic partners to transform the opportunities and experiences that make their communities places where people want to live, learn, work, play and raise a family. As the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries continues its work in the months and years ahead, we will work with members of the Library Vision community of practice to support the information needs of communities and advance the transformative power of public libraries. The door to the Library Vision community is open. Won’t you come in and join us?

Amy Garmer

Director, Dialogue on Public Libraries

Aspen Institute