We know it’s critical in library work to connect to community priorities—and that extends to all library types, with the community in question shifting accordingly. But just how do we put a finger on the pulse of those needs? A new offering takes a unique and useful approach to answering that question.
Just in time for the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in January, a trio of partners—ICMA (International City/County Management Association), the Aspen Institute, and the Public Library Association—released the results of a 2016 national survey of chief administrative officers and local government leaders. The results, which captured 1,927 responses, were supplemented with an analysis by researcher John B. Horrigan, who previously served as research director for the development of the National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission and is currently a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center. Horrigan’s work, “The Role of Libraries in Advancing Community Goals,” is worth a look. It reflects on the aspects of the ecosystem at work, such as the type of government, relationship to the library, and funding.
Among the findings is a list of identified community priorities and whether the library is perceived as having a part in advancing them. They dovetail nicely, with, as Horrigan writes, “an alignment between the highest community priorities and the importance of the library’s role in addressing these same priorities.” High-speed Internet and digital literacy top the list, followed closely by early education, the attainment of a primary or secondary education, and community development.
The public library position with regard to literacy, or rather multiple literacies, was very much on my mind as I read this—what with the calling out of fake news sparking an important conversation about the place of libraries in building deeper information and media literacy, combined with the ongoing challenge to build reading literacy for patrons of all ages.
At that moment, I was shaping the program for the upcoming Public Library Think Tank, a live professional development event LJ is hosting with sister publication School Library Journal on March 9–10 in Miami, FL, thanks to active partnership with the Miami-Dade Public Library System. Themed “Libraries and Literacies: Redefining Our Impact,” the Think Tank is designed to surface some of the top strategic thoughts about literacy, as broadly defined in the library mission, as well as the innovations being implemented. There is much more in Horrigan’s report, but I was glad to see both digital literacy and education identified as shared concerns and wanted to hear more about what the civic leaders surveyed see as ways libraries can fill key gaps. Horrigan will be sharing those insights at the Think Tank (see the program here), likely adding to the actionable learning for us all.
A powerful aspect of Horrigan’s analysis is the identification of a path forward, through more collaboration. “Combining the knowledge and resources of library leaders with those of local government leaders would strengthen communities and help to readily address priorities in areas such as education, workforce and community development, and access to broadband and digital literacy skills,” noted Amy Garmer, director of the Dialogue on Public Libraries at the Aspen Institute.
There is integration of strategic thinking on these issues already happening in many of the areas where the most vibrant libraries are moving their cities and towns ahead. LJ’s Library of the Year and LibraryAware Award winners are just a few exemplars of this kind of work and the win-win-win it can mean for the library, civic leaders, and the community. That said, as the report points out, there is more to be done to intensify the engagement necessary to connect to local demands, with plenty of holes to address, even where communication is the most robust. So take a look at this report and see where your library can step deeper into the business of defining and responding to your community’s priorities.