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Public Libraries Can Be Catalysts for Community Transformation

October 22, 2014 ET

By Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

Library leaders have a new ally. The Aspen Institute, an education and policy organization located in Washington D.C. has just published “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries.” The report explores how libraries can be a catalyst for community transformation.

It is a great read, powered by contributions from high-profile thinkers, library professionals, policymakers, technology experts, philanthropists, educators, and civic leaders. It offers a renewed vision for library engagement in communities’ success. Through clear discussion and concise case studies, the report summarizes the assets of public libraries and describes four strategies for success:

  •         Aligning library services in support of community goals
  •         Providing access to content in all formats
  •         Ensuring long-term sustainability for public libraries
  •         Cultivating leadership

The report concludes with 15 action steps for library leaders, policymakers, and the community to use.

I had the honor of being part of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that led to this report. In a series of conversations convened by the Aspen Institute, we explored and championed new thinking on U.S. public libraries and developed concrete actions to support and transform public libraries for a more diverse, mobile and connected society. Our discussions focused on the impact of the digital revolution on access to information, knowledge, and the conduct of daily life.

At IMLS, we look forward to continuing to partner with the Aspen Institute. I believe we are stronger when others outside the library community recognize how libraries can address growing economic and social divides, strengthen communities, and enable individual success.

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