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Setting an Agenda to Advance Learning in Libraries

August 25, 2015

By Tim Carrigan
Senior Library Program Officer, IMLS

In May, a group of thought leaders met at the Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri, for an IMLS Focus convening on the subject of learning in libraries.  The event featured lively conversations on a variety of topics, including participatory learning, early learning; adult education and workforce development, continuing education and professional development, and digital literacy and inclusion.  Also discussed were the interdependent relationship between research and practice and the alignment of curriculum in the academy programs to meet the evolving needs of today’s libraries and the communities they serve.

Report cover for IMLS Focus: Learning in Libraries

Today we are excited to share a summary report outlining the major discussion points of the convening. The report, prepared by OCLC Research, highlights some of the key themes and issues raised by convening presenters and participants. We hope that these notes will be particularly useful for those interested in proposing projects related to our Learning in Libraries funding priority in both the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program and the National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program.

During the day’s proceedings, four overarching themes emerged, which are offered as guidance to IMLS and potential grant applicants as recommended areas of focus for advancing learning in libraries.

1. Connect LIS Education and Professional Development to 21st Century Librarianship

Library and information schools should reflect the evolving needs of 21st century libraries and communities. Continuing education should be informed by other sectors and disciplines, and support librarians’ mastery of new skills that will encourage learning in libraries, such as project management and partnership development. There is real potential for change in our institutions when staff are encouraged to create and think in new ways about space and services. Apply participatory learning approaches toward professional development; provide students with hands-on experiences that complement their classroom instruction. We need best practices for diversifying our own workforce; broadening our ethnic makeup, languages spoken, and breadth of skill sets; and embedding librarians in community organizations.

 2. Pursue research that connects with library practice

Conduct relevant research on learning in libraries that both informs, and is informed by, practice. Develop mutually beneficial relationships between researchers and practitioners before a project is implemented, ideally at the design phase. Communicate research findings in ways that will lead to demonstrable improvements in library services. Find ways to ensure that new practices are easily adoptable, more affordable, and widely implemented. Design projects so that findings can be released iteratively, rather than at the conclusion of a project, and when possible, use existing data sources. Research dissemination should optimize impact and influence. Resulting outputs and data should be shared, including the unexpected and failed research. Extend what has been learned locally to other individuals, institutions, communities, states, and across the nation.

 3. Design Participatory Learning Programs that demonstrate Innovation and Scalability

Design and develop new library programming models that provide participatory learning experiences for patrons across the lifespan. Possible audiences might include, but are not limited to, young children and their families; teens and tweens, un- and underemployed adults, and senior citizens. Meaningfully include the underserved and underrepresented. Implement intentional strategies for broad dissemination and scaling up rather than single local implementations. Demonstrate the efficacy of programs through evidence based program evaluation.

4. Develop Cross-Disciplinary Collaborations That Advance Library Services Nationwide

Engage in mutually beneficial national partnerships with allied organizations beyond the library sector with the potential to broadly elevate the role of libraries and expand library services to new audiences.  We need to expand our notion of the communities we serve, making sure that universal, inclusive design principles result in services that meet the needs of those we may not see in our buildings on a regular basis: the underserved from all ages, ethnicities, socio-economic conditions, and locations, and those with varying abilities and disabilities. More research is needed for reaching historically underrepresented or marginalized groups. People want to see and hear themselves reflected in library staff and service.

We are very much looking forward to engaging with the library community as it continues to work collaboratively to develop new tools, services, and educational programs in support of this funding priority.

Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program
National Leadership Grants for Libraries
Initiative Publications