I’ve written before about the important work of the Aspen Institute’s project, “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries.” (I was a member of their Working Group and am still involved with the project.)
Yesterday, April 13, 2015, Aspen took the Dialogue on the road in a joint all-day meeting at the State Capitol in Connecticut, co-sponsored by the Connecticut State Library. It was the first such statewide dialogue about the future of libraries.
It brought together more than 100 elected officials, policymakers, business executives, leaders of civic organizations and those involved professionally and as trustees in libraries. The diversity of participants was unusual – too often librarians just end up talking to themselves.
The intent was two-fold:
“To identify strategic opportunities presented by the state’s public libraries in response to the educational, economic, social and technological transformations that are affecting individuals and communities across Connecticut.
“To explore how to leverage the assets of public libraries to build more knowledgeable, healthy and sustainable communities.
Two themes caught my attention during the day. First, the necessity and value of library networks in a digital world. Second, the library as a community asset, in building the community that surrounds it and as a platform for people to achieve their economic potential.
The former State Economic Development noted the role of libraries as something that will attract people to a community – in a situation where every community is competing for people.
There was a panel on a fundamental issue, but one that is seldom discussed —Library Alignment with State Priorities in Economic, Workforce and Community Development. As Aspen noted:
“In addition to providing a platform for learning, public libraries are also hubs for community and workforce development, creativity and innovation. They provide a variety of technologies, tools and resources; diverse spaces including maker-spaces, STEM learning labs, hacker spaces, innovations centers, co-working and collaboration spaces; and access to mentors and conversations among creative people. Public libraries are well positioned to work with government, businesses and community partners to design and deliver skill development opportunities and promote the development and use of advanced high-speed Internet connectivity.”
Governor Malloy gave the keynote address at lunch, offering the perspective of an elected chief executive:
“With information at the fingertips of everyone wherever they are, the ground is changing under libraries.
"Relevancy is a key issue for libraries. A future role for libraries has to involve more than those people already involved with libraries.
In addition to the traditional role of being a place for 6 year olds, libraries are "where you go to get information [and training] and to change your life. It’s where you prepare for the next career you want or are forced to have.
Creating a new role for libraries, in the face of stagnant or declining local funds, requires more collaboration. As an example, he pointed to Connecticut’s statewide purchases of e-books.
During the afternoon, a subset of the leaders were invited for a roundtable discussion on next steps in implementing the ideas of the Aspen report. (See the picture below.)
Amy Garmer, director of the program, concluded by promising that Aspen plans to continue these statewide efforts, which will involve some of us from the working group. Maureen Sullivan, past President of the American Library Association, and I will be bringing these ideas next month to the New Hampshire Library Trustees annual meeting.
If you want to bring this vision of the 21st century library to your state or region, please contact one of us.
© 2015 Norman Jacknis