April 23, 2018

ALA Launches “Libraries Transform” Campaign

librariestransformOn October 29 American Library Association (ALA) president Sari Feldman launched the Libraries Transform campaign, a three-year national public awareness initiative focusing on the ways public, academic, school, and special libraries and librarians across the nation transform their communities. Events kicked off in Washington, DC, as the Libraries Transform team visited a cross-section of transformative libraries, and will continue with contributions from libraries—and library lovers—everywhere.

Libraries Transform’s inaugural day began at 10:00 a.m. with the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology at the Smithsonian Institute, with a tour of the exhibit Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780–1910 led by deputy director Mary Augusta Thomas discussing “How the Smithsonian is transforming materials so that they can transform people.” The team continued on to the library at Thomson Elementary School, and from there checked out the tech lab at George Washington University’s Gelman Library, winding up at the DC Public Library system’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to examine its collection of lab spaces that foster digital literacy, collaboration, and creativity.

“Today’s libraries are not just about what we have for people, but what we do for and with people,” said Feldman in a statement. “The goal of the Libraries Transform campaign is to change the perception that ‘libraries are just quiet places to do research, find a book, and read’ to a shared understanding of libraries as dynamic centers for learning in the digital age. Libraries of all kinds foster individual opportunity that ultimately drives the success of our communities and our nation.”

In addition to the tour, street teams popped up in high-traffic, high-visibility areas throughout the DC metro area, giving people the chance to take a short true-false quiz on libraries in exchange for a “Libraries Transform” Starbucks gift card—because, as Cuyahoga County Public Library communications and external relations director Hallie Rich noted, “what goes better with a book than a cup of coffee?” The quiz will be available online as well.


The festivities were not limited to Washington, however. Libraries across the country are displaying large “Libraries Transform” banners, from the San Francisco Public Library to Oregon’s Multnomah County Library to Boston Public Library’s flagship Copley Square library, as well as academic libraries like those at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and the University of Maryland in College Park.

Libraries large and small are encouraged to help spread the word through the Libraries Transform Toolkit. Users can download a Libraries Transform website banner, print a variety of posters and postcards with the campaign’s conversation-starting “Because…” messages (“Because more than a quarter of U.S. households don’t have a computer with an Internet connection”; “Because the world is at their fingertips and the world can be a scary place”; “Because students can’t afford scholarly journals on a ramen noodle budget”; and more), access articles and TEDx videos highlighting some of the innovative work going on. Supporters can also check out the list of Top Ten ways to engage with the campaign, including creating pop-up events and guerrilla marketing events. Users can also bring their own library stories to the site.

“What we would love for libraries across the country to do,” explained Rich, “is invite their customers to tell their stories of library transformation…and share the stories of some of the unique or innovative things that the library itself is doing to make a difference to drive both individual opportunity and community progress.” Libraries and customers alike are encouraged to take the conversation to social media as well—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest—with the hashtag #LibrariesTransform.

“I want to stop the question ‘does anyone even use libraries anymore?’” Feldman told LJ. “We know libraries of all types are doing this work, in communities, on campuses, and in schools…. What we need to do is amplify the message and make sure that all Americans know what’s happening and what’s available in our libraries.”

Feldman added, “For me, there can be nothing more important than being sure that the general public—stakeholders, policymakers, funders—are all aware of this transformation, and the kind of individual opportunity and community progress that libraries are making.”


While the stories and tweets gathered at #LibrariesTransform aptly show the rich variety of tales and experiences taking place in libraries every day, a major objective of the campaign is to give libraries across the spectrum a unified voice and message. As the country approaches its next presidential election cycle, it is increasingly critical for libraries to advocate for what they can do—and to do so together.

“Within the profession itself, libraries see the distinction that a school library is very different from a public library is very different from an academic library or a special collection library,” Rich explained to LJ. “What we recognize is that the profession is most powerful when [libraries] can come together around a particular topic or issue and identify not what’s different but what is similar. Because the fact of the matter is that people who use libraries, they don’t make those hard distinctions. They know that the library is there for them at different points in their life…. So this campaign is to provide that universal umbrella message about the impact that libraries can have so that libraries are then better empowered to better tell their stories.”

“We are the most powerful when we speak with one voice,” said Feldman. This is about America’s libraries, not about any one library type. The opportunity to work with the [ALA] on a presidential effort that will be long-lasting, three to five years as a public awareness campaign, is very exciting to me.”

In the process of telling those stories, the Libraries Transform team in DC is taking photos and tweeting as it makes the rounds on Thursday. LJ will be reporting on the library visits as well—stay tuned.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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  1. gilshtein olga says:

    I think, that there is nothing wrong with ‘libraries are just quiet places to do research, find a book, and read’. library can be other things as well, but for certain disciplines, students and researches need just that “a quiet place”… many come to our library asking just that “do you have a quiet place….?” moving forward doesn’t mean completely renouncing the past…

    • June Berveiler says:

      AMEN! Are we so close to omniscience that public libraries need no longer provide the public with “quiet places to do research, find a book, and read”? The “Transform Libraries” movement purports to turn the public library into a “community center” that offers “services.” “Community center is a euphemism for an amusement park. “Services” is a euphemism for frivolity. Did the instigators of this movement major in sandbox and paper dolls in college? Clearly, they are not given to making intellectual demands upon themselves.

      A branch of a certain urban public library offered rock concerts in 2015. I had the misfortune of walking into that library to use the Internet when one of them was in progress. The volume was so loud that my whole head throbbed. It felt as if there were a razor blade inside my brain sawing at the thalamus. I left three phone messages with a commissioner of that library to learn if this nonsense would continue in 2016. Said commissioner did not return my calls.

      What kind of doctors, nurses, lawyers, and teachers will we have if this development continues? Sensible people must reclaim their public libraries and restore them to the dignity of being “just quiet places to do research, find a book, and read.” They need to do it yesterday!

  2. Sadly, we are becoming an anti-intellectual entertainment oriented society. We seem to value bread and circuses over reading and research. It is a shame that libraries are feeling compelled or even pressured to follow this trend. There are overabundant venues for entertainment but very few places for quiet contemplation and study. I hope librarians will resist following current trends and instead choose to lead in promoting knowledge, understanding, and the value of peace and quiet.

  3. This comment has been removed because it violates LJ’s comment policy.

  4. Why do people think they have to be entertained at all times and places? We are being dumbed down enough with all the mind intrusions of today’s culture. Libraries are one of the last places of refuge where one can find solitude from today’s hectic world. Libraries should remain “libraries” as they have always been. The best thing the ALA can ” do” for people is to let them be silent places where one can get in touch with intellectual endeavors, be it reading, studying, doing research, or just plain thinking. There are other places to go for entertainment, so why try to compete with them? It makes me really sad to see libraries going this route. I think it is a big mistake, and libraries will regret it in the future.

  5. Tom O'Malley says:

    This comment has been removed because it violates LJ’s comment policy.

  6. In an era when libraries have been fighting for relevancy in a brave new world when even presidential candidates believe everything they read online, it is more important than ever to promote the MANY dynamic resources that can be found in libraries.

    Yes, the public can go to the library for a quiet space, research, and to read a good book. These traditional aspects of the American Library aren’t going away, nor should they. However, I believe the purpose of this campaign is to enlighten the public (who already know they can go to the library for a quiet space, research, and to read a good book) of the vast number of other resources that are available at their local libraries.

    Having taken a look at the #librariestransform hashtag, I see libraries that are nurturing local authors, kids discovering maker spaces, citizenship classes, and even gardens being planted. If these things happen to entertain our patrons, I say we’ve done our job.

    • June Berveiler says:

      I agree with almost everything the author above says. I do not object to a diversification of library activities. Everything he has mentioned seems altogether in keeping with the library’s traditional–and necessary–function. Nothing he mentioned interferes with a person’s need for a quiet place to study. The only disagreement I might have is with the idea that the public already knows about the library as a quiet venue for study. Some people seem to be woefully ignorant of this.

      However, I have heard horror stories about libraries in which reading is impossible because someone is playing an electric guitar–or the library is hosting a rock concert during regular hours. I know of a library that shows movies outdoors during the summer at a volume which people living blocks away can hear.

      Adding activities to a library’s agenda entails reasonable limits. We live in a time when children are scoring poorly on standardized tests. Their scores will only improve if they read more. For this they need quiet. Their homes might not provide this. Therefore, they must rely on the library for the peaceful environment they need to improve their minds.