Pages tagged "Community Engagement"

Improving and Expanding Conversations in the Community for Youth

Pine River Public Library, Pine River, CO

The Pine River Public Library is located in rural, Southwest Colorado, 20 miles east of Durango. The library district serves over 1,800 people in the small town of Bayfield plus an additional 6,500 in the surrounding areas.

Developing a Broad Foundation of Community Engagement

Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT

Fletcher Free Library (FFL) serves the small city of Burlington, Vermont located on eastern shore of Lake Champlain an hour of the Canadian border. Burlington is Vermont’s most populous city and the state’s economic center. Burlington’s population remains relatively stable at approximately 45,000, however our demographics are ever-changing.

A One Stop Reference Point for Those Who Are In Need Of Local Resources

New Braunfels Public Library, New Braunfels, TX

Working through the exercises in the Action Guide was so much more beneficial than we originally believed possible. We identified several new issues in two main areas - services to patrons groups that had not previously been identified, i.e. - the resource challenged patrons and services to patron groups that we had identified and addressed but through change were no longer being served as well, i.e. - employment seekers.

Informed and Engaged Communities: The Critical Impact of Libraries on Civic Life

At the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, we work to promote informed and engaged communities in a variety of sectors, including journalism, technology, and the arts. I work directly in 18 of the 26 Knight communities, places where I see the critical impact libraries can have on civic life. This means I get to work with libraries of all shapes and sizes across the country. I learned a lot this past year, and here are some of the trends I am seeing:


Libraries: The Fabric of a Thriving Community

Libraries have the power to educate, convene, preserve, inspire, and connect. Libraries can be more powerful now more than ever. In Seattle, we opened the public library auditorium as a free, non-alcoholic venue to watch the Seattle Seahawks play in the Superbowl game on our big screen. We drew hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds from all walks of life. Many of whom commented that they would not have had access to watch the game if it weren’t for the public library. They smiled, cheered loudly, and danced! Who would imagine, a traditionally quiet public library as a loud venue to watch sports?

The library is more than a building with books and computers. Growing up, I was a curious child. I bombarded my parents, teachers, and other adults with questions about how things came to be and why the world is the way that it is.  “Why is it that way?” “Who determined that?” My patient mother, who was an early childhood teacher, always directed me to research to find the answers. “Look it up,” my mother would say. Of course there was no world wide web, and info was not readily accessible at the click of my fingertips. But, we did keep an Encyclopedia Britannica collection at home. I still remember my family’s Encyclopedia Britannica collection. I loved those sky blue books. But, despite my love of our home collection of encyclopedias, there was nothing better than our trips to the public library. The access to the public library tapped into a different emotion, one that I didn’t even know existed.

When we visited the library, I felt as though I belonged. There was no entry fee, age requirement, or skills test. When we entered, there simply was a smiling librarian who asked if we needed any assistance. Outside of home, school, and church, I didn’t realize the power of feeling connected to broader society before walking into the public library. For me, the public library was a sanctuary that provided free roam to find information and discover new things.

As an adult, I have learned to appreciate the interconnectivity that public libraries provide for communities. They are a central repository for different segments of our communities. The public library meets different needs for a wide range of the public. For instance, they serve as a place for education, a resource center for jobs, an exhibit gallery for historical writings and revered works of art, a place of refuge, a venue for dialogue, and a place to plan and strategize. Many great ideas have been conceived out of the public library.

Both public libraries and the community must continue to reimagine libraries. We must expand our thoughts of public libraries beyond the traditional role of borrowing books. Communities and public libraries must think of themselves as interconnected. The public library is a critical part of the community ecosystem. Public libraries, unlike almost any community entity, are accessible to everyone.

Libraries will always be critical to the fabric of a thriving community. Even as the world changes and new technologies provide access to information in different ways, nothing will replace the power of the public library. Public libraries should always provide familiar services such as books and computer access, but they are more than that. Public libraries at their core humanize us all. By providing free access to everyone, they embody equity in access and serve as the glue for the various ecosystems in communities.


Tre Maxie**

Director, Youth & Engagement Division

The Aspen Institute 

**In an e-blast sent on February 1, 2017, Tre Maxie was referenced as a trustee at the Seattle Public Library. He is a former trustee.

Seattle Public Library - Microsoft Auditorium 






The Role of Libraries in Advancing Community Goals

Today, The Aspen Institute, in partnership with International City/County Management Association (ICMA), and the Public Library Association (PLA), released Local Libraries Advancing Community Goals, 2016, a report detailing results of a nationwide survey of nearly 2,000 chief administrative offices of local governments focused on the evolving role of public libraries in advancing community goals.

The survey reveals that local government leaders envision public libraries as a key resource to support their communities’ education and digital inclusion goals while indicating interest in exploring new roles for libraries to address other community priorities.  These findings resonate with the vision contained in Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries and point the way to new opportunities for local government leaders and library leaders to engage in collaborative work to strengthen and support the transformation of public libraries.

The survey was conducted as part of the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries and updates the last ICMA survey on libraries from 2010.  

Local Libraries Advancing Community Goals, 2016, highlights three specific areas of opportunity for library and local government leaders to work together more closely: collaborating on community priorities, engaging in active information sharing and communication about community issues, and seeking additional funding sources to enable libraries to expand programming and services.

Survey results also reveal the following as the top five community priorities, ranked high or very high, as areas where local government leaders see libraries playing an important role:

  • access to high-speed Internet service (73%)
  • digital literacy (65%)
  • early childhood education (65%)
  • primary and secondary school attainment (59%)
  • online learning/virtual learning (52%)

These priorities align well with areas of focus and development for public libraries under a series of initiatives led by PLA and its partners, including, Every Child Ready to Read, and new research related to family engagement through libraries by the Harvard Family Research Project. PLA’s Project Outcome initiative helps libraries measure the impact of programs like these in communities nationwide to better inform service improvements and collaborations with local partners.

The release is accompanied by additional analysis on key factors influencing local government responses in a supplemental report, The Role of Libraries in Advancing Community Goals, by independent researcher John B. Horrigan, PhD, who led the research shop during development of the National Broadband Plan and is noted for his expertise on broadband growth, digital literacy and libraries.

While libraries are viewed by local government leaders as having an important role in the community, according to Horrigan’s analysis, their engagement with library leadership and resources is influenced by three major factors: an existing governing relationship, general fund support for the library, and a population greater than 100,000.

Among Horrigan’s other findings, communication between local government leaders and library leaders is higher when there is a governing or funding relationship. “Some 56% of libraries with a governing relationship are invited often or very often to discussions about local issues compared with 38% of all respondents,” notes Horrigan, who says this holds true for libraries that receive funding allocations from the general fund (51%) and in communities with populations of 100,000 people or more (52%). Library funding also was an important topic addressed in the survey.

We asked John to compare the responses to four questions included on the ICMA survey that the Pew Research Center also has asked in its surveys of Americans 16 years and older regarding services the library should be providing. We were curious if local government leaders would see the role of public libraries differently from the general public. Horrigan’s analysis shows that strong majorities of local government leaders and the public think that libraries should coordinate more closely with schools and that libraries should provide technology and resources in makerspaces. However, the analysis indicates that “a disconnect emerges for training for the digital world,” with just under half of local government respondents saying that libraries should offer programs to help people protect their privacy and security online while three-quarters of the public thinks that libraries should definitely do this.

To read the complete results of the ICMA survey, go to: To read the summary report of John Horrigan’s analysis, go to: I also will be discussing the survey with a panel of library leaders at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, Sunday, January 22, at 3 PM.

And here are some additional great resources for learning more, courtesy of PLA:

Videos showcasing how libraries support education, employment, entrepreneurship and more:

Public and school libraries help students get Ready to Code:  and

Entrepreneurship: and



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.


Need to Get Wallet-Wise? A Librarian Knows How to Help

Book lovers have always flocked to their local library to pick up a favorite classic or the latest bestseller. But today’s patrons also want and need a whole lot more.

Libraries are a community’s most trusted source for all kinds of information, guidance, and connection. Through their partnerships, librarians reach well beyond the walls of their branches. Today, they’re teaching patrons on myriad topics that include citizenship, resume writing and how to plan their spending, manage their credit, deal with debt, and steer clear of scammers.

Recognizing that libraries anchor their communities – and librarians have their fingers on the pulse of what people are doing and learning, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) formed a collaboration with the American Library Association years ago.

This collaboration has helped the FTC to support librarians as they help diverse groups of people navigate a complicated marketplace and, in turn, we learn from them about the needs and concerns of their patrons.

We learned from them what the people they serve need to know about managing their finances and troubleshooting debt. What kinds of scams they experience. And what’s the best way to reach them.

The responses we received led to the development of online resources at to address those needs for: people with challenges reading Englisholder patrons, Spanish-speaking individuals, identity theft victimsnew arrivals, and families looking to start a conversation with kids about digital literacy and living life online. Soon we will be releasing tips and tools to address the particular consumer challenges military families face. 

We’ve also made free copies of bookmarks and other print resources available to librarians to give out or use in community programming. We work to support librarians in other ways that include hosting webinars to address supporting materials on a variety of topics and how to develop a plan for sharing with patrons. Additionally, to assist with digital communication, we have designed tips and videos to be short, snackable content that librarians can add to newsletters, web sites, or social networks.  

The FTC’s collaboration with trusted librarians around the country expands our reach exponentially. Together we can get people the information they need to balance their budget, find ways to save, or plan for the future.

Carol Kando-Pineda

Counsel, Division of Consumer & Business Education

Federal Trade Commission


All Hail Our Library Robot Overlords

In October 2014 The Westport Library introduced robots Nancy and Vincent to our MakerSpace, generating a great deal of interest not only in library circles but in the international media as well. The two diminutive humanoid Nao Robots, made by the French company Aldebaran Robotics and purchased at a cost of $8000 each through a grant and private donation, were added for the purpose of demystifying robotics, teaching computer programming and providing some wonder, according to Maxine Bleiweis, who was Executive Director of the library at the time.

The Nao Robots, which come equipped with cameras, microphones, and various other sensors, are programmable using Python, a common programming language, and can be “taught” via coding to respond to voice commands, recognize faces, carry out conversations, walk, catch and kick a small soccer ball, and other actions. Nancy and Vincent can even perform tai chi together!

Over the past year and a half the Nao Robots have enjoyed a whirlwind tour entertaining and educating crowds both at home and on the road, but the wear and tear on these machines has taken its toll- with Nancy and Vincent making several trips back to the vendor for repairs and upkeep, with an increasing amount of time necessary to prepare the robots between their scheduled engagements. However, this has done nothing to stem the tide of interest in coding and robotics at The Westport Library.

While Nancy and Vincent enjoy their state of semi-retirement- coming out now only by appointment or for special occasions- a new generation of robots has arrived on the scene to assist MakerSpace staff with their mission, including the programmable Dash Robot from Wonder Workshop and the somewhat less functional but more fun Star Wars BB-8 Droid from Sphero. Additionally, the MakerSpace has recently backed a KickStarter campaign by Primo Toys for Cubetto, a hands-on coding toy where children can program a robot by arranging wooden blocks on a board. The MakerSpace has also expanded its coding instruction with workshops featuring Arduino and Raspberry Pi, as well as offering classes in Scratch, a free visual programming language created at MIT.

The impact of Nancy and Vincent has reached well beyond robotics, however. As Alex Giannini, Manager of Experiential Learning, observes: the Nao Robots brought a large cross-section of people into the library, many of whom had a diverse range of Maker interests of their own. As a result of coming to interact with the robots, many of these people became members of our extended MakerSpace community and brought their own expertise with them, both broadening and deepening our expertise as well. What began with a pair of robots has now blossomed into a space where anything can be imagined and realized, including our current community build: a 20-foot dragon being sculpted out of clay, molded in silicone and cast in fiberglass!

As library MakerSpaces expand beyond their traditional STEM origins, it is worth remembering that the Ancient Greek root for technology is techne, which literally means craftsmanship or art. Embracing other forms of hands-on, experiential learning is not a rejection of high-tech MakerSpace features such as 3-D printing, coding and robotics, but simply recognition that these are part of a broader discipline which encompasses the full range of STEAM education. Our library robot overlords Nancy and Vincent have not only been excellent ambassadors for science and engineering, but the arts as well.

Tom Bruno

Director of Knowledge Curation and Innovation

The Westport Library

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