Communications and Society Program

Dialogue on Public Libraries

NY Public Library Main Reading Room, New York Public Library

As trusted institutions, public libraries serve their communities by improving digital skills, helping people access information in new ways, providing a space for learning at every age, and connecting people to jobs, educational opportunities and critical community services. Yet, despite these benefits, libraries face ongoing challenges with budget cuts and the need to adapt in an increasingly diverse, mobile and digital society.

To help advance the work that public libraries are doing to address these challenges and to support the transformation of public libraries for the digital age, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program is spearheading a multi-year initiative to explore, develop and champion new ways of thinking about U.S. public libraries.

The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries will spark a national conversation to help communities and library institutions think in new ways about the mission and role of public libraries. The conversations held throughout this year will result in a report that outlines a shared vision for public libraries and provides recommendations to generate an ongoing national dialogue.

The Dialogue kicked off with an invitation-only meeting in early August where selected working group members considered solutions to ensure public libraries are at the forefront of serving communities for years to come.

The working group, which includes leaders from the library field, executives from businesses, officials from various levels of government, community development visionaries and education experts, is based on the Aspen Institute model of bringing together diverse perspectives to generate breakthrough ideas, with thought leading to action.

While the August meeting was invitation-only, there will be several opportunities for others to join the conversation and offer input and ideas for the vision through online feedback and at scheduled meetings and conferences throughout the year. Those opportunities will be added here as they take shape.

In the meantime, read the materials from the Dialogue's lead-off presentations on 8/4/13 by John Seeley Brown (Reimagining Learning for a World of Constant Change), Reed Hundt (Reimagining Libraries: Four Choices, Four Trends, Four Questions) and Lee Rainie (Pew Survey Data: Library Use) and join the conversation on Twitter. Use the Dialogue's hashtag – #libraryvision – to share your vision for the next generation of public libraries.

What We’re Reading

As the Dialogue on Public Libraries sets out to explore the changing mission of public libraries, the working group will take a closer look at many of the rich resources that have already been developed by the library field and others. Check out the publications/articles below to see what we’re reading:

"Riding the Waves or Caught in the Tide? Navigating the Evolving Information Environment" IFLA Trend Report, August 2013.

"A new model for the public library in the knowledge and experience society," Henrik Jochumsen, Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen and Dorte Skot-Hansen, Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, Royal School of Library and Information Science

The Library of the Future, Alan Davey, Arts Council, England, May 2013

Branches of Opportunity, David Giles, Center for an Urban Future, January 2013

Click here for the press release about the launch of the Dialogue. For additional information, please contact Dialogue project director Amy Garmer at garmer [at] aspeninstitute [dot] org.