Yesterday, in the stately Trustee Room of the New York Public Library, the Aspen Institute released its report “Rising To The Challenge: Re-envisioning Public Libraries." It was based on the results of their Dialogue on Public Libraries. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a member of their Working Group and I even helped out with the draft report a bit, including one of its sidebar stories.)
They also unveiled a new video about this future at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh5E2VConxc
Readers of this blog will not be surprised that I’m clearly in synch with the central foundation of the report that "public libraries [are] at the center of the digital age”, our era.
The project was led by Amy Garmer of Aspen, who also wrote the report and who deserves enormous credit for this work. As Deborah Jacobs, Director of the Gates Foundation Global Library Initiative said, Amy Garmer is now the most influential non-librarian in the library world.
She begins the report by setting the stage this way:
“The process of re-envisioning public libraries to maximize their impact reflects:
- Principles that have always been at the center of the public library’s mission—equity, access, opportunity, openness and participation
- The library’s capacity to drive opportunity and success in today’s knowledge-based society
- An emerging model of networked libraries that promotes economies of scale and broadens the library’s resource reach while preserving its local presence
The library’s fundamental people, place and platform assets”
In addition to these points, another strategic, but infrequently stated, point was made in the report – there needs to be a new model for sustainable funding for library services that recognizes and supports their fundamental role in our society and economy.
As part of the event surrounding the report’s release, there was a panel discussion with some more interesting observations:
- Linda Johnson, CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library, said that we need to understand that libraries are not centers for books but for learning – and centers of enjoyment.
- Ralph Smith, SVP of the Casey Foundation and Managing Director of its Campaign For Grade Level Reading, said he had learned over time that libraries have a unique combination of “hi tech and hi touch” which is what is required for education these days.
- Nashville/Davidson County Mayor Dean said that “building libraries is the most popular thing I do. Demand always outstrips supply.”
Although not directly related to this event, the Atlantic Magazine also had a recent article about the public library of Columbus, Ohio, titled “Not Your Mother’s Library”.
What immediately stood out were two contrasting word clouds. First, the words people associated with past libraries, the libraries of their childhood.
Then the words they used to describe the library of the future …
In a more elegant and profound way, the Aspen report expanded on these simple descriptions:
“The Dialogue’s perspective on the 21st-century library builds on the public library’s proven track record in strengthening communities and calls for libraries to be centers of learning, creativity and innovation in the digital age. No longer a nice-to-have amenity, the public library is a key partner in sustaining the educational, economic and civic health of the community during a time of dramatic change. Public libraries inspire learning and empower people of all ages. They promote a better trained and educated workforce. They ensure equitable access and provide important civic space for advancing democracy and the common good. Public libraries are engines of development within their communities.”
Aspen intends to follow up to implement and move the vision forward, so look for these ideas to take root in your city with your help.
Note: The report is at http://as.pn/libraries
© 2014 Norman Jacknis