Pages tagged "Innovation"

Space Matters

Whether witnessing the Northern Lights, reading an inspiring article, attending a world premier opera, dining at a pioneering new restaurant or swimming with sharks; these moments are etched in my mind and filed away as memories to be cherished again and again. Why? Because they made every cell vibrate with life. Often the best moments in life are those we experience on multiple levels --- mind, body and senses powerfully engaged.

How is it that moments that engage on both the cerebral and corporeal level are the foundation of learning? How do we create the opportunities that keep us coming back for more? How do we consistently offer this opportunity and the discovery inherent in education? How do we continually provide the same stimulation that lives permanently in our memory and informs future endeavors? The path lies in the way we create learning spaces - vibrant learning spaces, to be specific. Spaces pulsating with energy and excitement. If we carefully curate the space, providing the proper mix of tools, resources and inspiration, the full experience of learning will occur more rapidly and more frequently. 

At Heart of America (HOA) we know that learning can happen at any moment but the right space is an imperative. For the past 20 years, we have explored and tackled this issue, learning throughout our journey. Our work has transformed small and large learning spaces in schools, community centers and public libraries – sometimes through complete overhauls and sometimes through thoughtful adjustments to elements already there, always with the goal of vibrancy in mind as that is what stimulates and captivates. That is the engine.

Today’s libraries should reflect how we ideate, ruminate and ultimately discover in our constantly evolving environment. Libraries must embrace more active and diverse ways of encouraging and allowing education to happen. Libraries were created as learning environments, but as time went on, all too often their lack of funding or lack of understanding of how to keep step with the world outside their doors, ultimately created a situation in which they remained still while the world rushed by at a dizzying pace.

The amazing and not unexpected reality is libraries continue in many ways to own the potential to be best-in-class learning environments. How? By embracing their ability to be a strategic inventory of digital and print information, creation spaces, art museums, learning labs, open collaboration areas, technology hubs and makerspaces. These vital municipal spaces should be a beacon of light for our neighborhoods, our schools, and all types of community groups by creating spaces that beckon, entice and cajole entry. 

Years of experience and experimentation has taught our HOA team how to design vibrant learning spaces and libraries. The secret sauce? Orchestrate a true community effort incorporating the following six steps:

  1. LISTEN: Listen to the stakeholders who use, work in and manage the library to understand how and why they use it; ask what would elevate their learning, what would make their job easier?
  2. INVENTORY: Catalogue current inventory of books, technology, art, materials; who are the users (demographics, languages, occupations, etc.).
  3. OBSERVE: Watch traffic flow; note the types of activities that take place in the library; where are the active spaces and where are the quiet?  Is the space conducive for multiple types of learning styles – solo and group?
  4. DREAM: Think and design BIG with library stakeholders and community members; reimagine new learning environments; create an equipment and resource wish-list; brainstorm and sketch out an ideal library. 
  5. BUILD: Engage local funders, donors, sponsors, partners who live, work and grow in the community; utilize local trades, artists, designers to build the dream.
  6. NOURISH: Continue to update resources and assess Library progress with community stakeholders and engage Library partners.

In celebration of HOA’s 20th anniversary, we want to share, excite and engage communities across the nation. To do this, we are hosting an interactive and stimulating discussion series focused on the evolution of learning spaces, including libraries. Join us. Contribute to our communities with us. Whether in person or via podcast, please be an active part of the conversation to help advance our collective work on creating vibrant learning environments throughout our country.  

Twitter: @heartofamericaf
Facebook: @heartofamerica

Jill Hardy Heath
President & CEO
The Heart of America Foundation

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:


Reaching the Rest of Us: Public Libraries Using TV WhiteSpace to Connect Next Billion(s)

In the context of the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), the World Bank/IMF, in partnership with the United States State Department, launched the Global Connect Initiative (GCI) in October 2015 with the goal of bringing the next 1.5 billion people online by 2020.

At the recently concluded Internet Governance Forum(IGF) in Guadalajara, the notion of the world’s 320,000 libraries as key players in bringing online the billions of yet-connected people gained a new level of acceptance as these trusted institutions are generally flexible to play many crucial support roles related to ICT access.

Even before the IGF, a consensus approach had been emerging that libraries, offering low/no-fee basic access "entry points” with added training and support services, optimize chances for successful new user adoption.  A conclusion reached in the 2013 Global Impact Study comparing the effectiveness of libraries, telecenters and internet cafes as public access venues.

One typical story comes from Kenya where a public library in the Nanyuki District acquired its first connection early this year, using TV WhiteSpace (TVWS) to enable it as a community access hub. Traffic to the library has steadily increased since, not only in terms of Internet access but also as patrons discover the many other valuable library services available.

TVWS, as a new form of WiFi, is an open public wireless capability utilizing unused spectrum in the old analog TV broadcast bands. The long range and non-line-of-sight characteristics of TVWS can quickly and inexpensively extend the reach of any network, making it ideal for rural areas especially where an abundance of unused spectrum awaits.

In the US, public libraries have begun exploring the potential of TVWS to extend library WiFi into new places across their communities. Parks, playgrounds, senior centers, shelters, and other locations where connectivity is needed, yet a challenge to provide. The Manhattan, Kansas Public Library has partnered with the city Parks Department to install hotspots at the public swimming pool and the community ice rink to easily create an attractive new library-provided amenity for these popular spaces.

Public libraries, using TVWS to create or extend public access in their communities, offer the most economical and most equitable way to bring the greatest number of new users into the global digital conversation. Soonest!

Don Means

Director, Libraries WhiteSpace Project

Gigabit Libraries Network

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.


Smart Libraries: Community Development Through Innovation and Partnerships

Technologies that have been maturing over the last decades are no longer on the horizon but on our doorsteps. They are being deployed by the thousands and portend substantial changes in just about every aspect of our lives. Massive amounts of data are generated and self-learning, self-improving artificial intelligence is being used to not only make sense of the data but to leverage that information for good and nefarious purposes. Hundreds of new applications are discovered and come online every day in all fields of endeavor.

While the convergence of different technologies makes it difficult to forecast the future, the sheer amount of digital data, when harnessed effectively, makes it possible to better read the needs of the local community, government, organizations and businesses. Libraries are often the ideal and in some cases, the only organizations that can best articulate and leverage these data-related opportunities.

 “Smart” Libraries

Behind the constant improvement in smart phones are thousands of people working to improve the relevance of the applications, the user interface and the overall user experience. As the Internet of Everything begins to connect and monitor almost every object in our lives, smart phones (or whatever they morph into) will take on monumental tasks so that we can utilize real-time data to enhance our lives, communities and to better predict our future needs.

Like an ever-evolving smart phone, a smart library is constantly assessing and ranking the needs of the local community so that relevant programs can be created, funded, evaluated, enhanced and sustained.

Determining Local Needs

Libraries are generally politically neutral so they are in an ideal position to assess and aggregate all assets in a community. Representatives from these asset organizations are tapped to join ongoing forums that are tasked with evaluating the overall needs of the community. They decide which needs and opportunities might not be accomplished by existing government or other entities and rank them based on what is possible, immediate, fundable, most beneficial, etc. Stakeholders and partners are brought in to create, manage and deploy the initiatives.

Forums can be created for each major group; kids, tweens, teens, life long learning, seniors, businesses, entrepreneurs… each community will identify their own demographic segments.

Key factors in the success of smart library programs are:

• sustainable revenue

• sharing best practices

• new governance models

• measuring outcomes

• crowd sourcing the untapped intelligence within each community

• a real-time local “dashboard” of  relevant information

• access to adequate broadband

• adequate protection for privacy

Moving our Libraries into This New Phase

We need to bring staff, boards, government, and sustaining organizations into a conversation on existing best practices and enter into a dialog on the future. It is imperative that local stakeholders see libraries in new ways – for their new potential as a community asset organizer.

Identifying potential partners and pairing them with needs and initiatives through their participation in library-sponsored forums creates new revenue opportunities for the partners, stakeholders and the library. The ongoing education associated with these initiatives elevates the entire process and all involved. The process makes communities better able to deal with opportunity and disruption as humanity moves through a series of never before experienced inflection points. As communities grow deeper relationships and tap members of all demographics, a greater optimism of what is possible should emerge along with a clearer local brand and a more authentic and durable sense of community.

Smart libraries play a major role in the creation of networked and more sustainable communities.

Chip Weston

Owner, Chip Weston Studios

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

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




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


The Library as the Central Institution of the Knowledge Economy

Americans live in an economy in which an increasing number of us make a living based on the knowledge we have and we offer to others. One estimate, almost ten years ago, noted that only 40 percent of jobs had no significant knowledge tasks. With increased automation of those jobs, the percentage of people in the knowledge economy is only increasing. Newspapers have reported the many almost desperate ways that people are trying to learn. But most adults are overwhelmed and frustrated in this effort.

The library is the most cost-effective widely available institution that can help individuals keep up their skills and knowledge. During the age of mass publishing of printed books in the 19th century, librarians took on the responsibility of curating and organizing the collections of books people needed. In this century, librarians can do the same for the digital materials that people need to prosper in the knowledge economy.

Because there is so much knowledge now, this is a big task for any single reference librarian. However, almost all libraries and librarians are now connected through the Internet, which allow them to network with other libraries. This means that each librarian can develop a specialty in a subject and then be available nationwide as the go-to reference librarians on that topic. It may be something as local as the history of their library’s city or as general as Greek pottery or chemical engineering. In this collaboration, all libraries will end up being able to provide much greater and richer knowledge to their local patrons, without an increase in budget. Just imagine the impact of the 70,000+ American librarians and 150,000+ other library staff working together!

The Aspen Institute’s report, Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries, envisions the aforementioned dynamic as a national digital platform. This can come to life in many ways, one of which has great economic significance.


Dr. Norman Jacknis

President, Metropolitan New York Library Council

Senior Fellow, the Intelligent Community Forum

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