Public Libraries

Future of Libraries: 2017 in Review and 2018 Preview

December 15, 2017  • Communications and Society Program

As 2017 comes to a close, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program invites you to join us as we celebrate and reflect over an exciting year marked by thoughtful, constructive discussions on a range of issues. The following “2017 Year In Review” series offers highlights from the various programs as well as insight into 2018 programming. For more information, please visit our homepage and or follow us on Twitter or Facebook

This year the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries convened and facilitated a successful series of dialogues and other conversations across the country to advance the work that public libraries are doing to address community challenges and to transform for the digital age. Our activities focused on expanding and deepening engagement with key community stakeholders and we produced two new resources to grow the community of practice emerging around the Aspen Institute vision framework. We are grateful to all those library and community champions who have worked with us over the past year and look ahead to 2018.

We kicked off 2017 with the release of two new reports on the role of public libraries in advancing community goals as viewed by city and county administrators: The Role of Libraries in Advancing Community Goals and Local Libraries Advancing Community Goals, 2016. Both reports are based on a survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in partnership with the Aspen Institute Dialogue and the Public Library Association (PLA). These reports highlight three areas of opportunity for local government and library leaders to work together more closely and identify some of the key factors that influenced government responses.

The reports were discussed as part of an Institute-led program at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta in January that also explored with library leaders from California, Connecticut and Florida how communities are using the Action Guide framework to re-envision and transform their public libraries  The partnership with ICMA continued with a July webinar, Public Library Innovations: A Story of Community Engagement, that featured a case study on strategic planning with Transylvania County (NC)’s County Administrator, Jamie Laughter, and County Library Director Anna Yount. The webinar was conducted for local government and library leaders interested in designing more effective strategies for aligning library services with city and county strategic plans.

We engaged community leaders, library trustees and stakeholders in a variety of other settings throughout the year. The inaugural Hometown Summit invited Dialogue Director Amy Garmer to share insights from the Dialogue’s work and moderate a session on library innovation as part of the Tom Tom Founder’s Festival in Charlottesville, Virginia in April. The Summit convened around 300 exceptional local leaders in small and mid-sized American cities with their counterparts in national organizations to foster innovative policies and practices and amplify the voices of emerging leaders.

Photo from the Aspen Institute Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries

Downloads and uptake of the Aspen Institute Action Guide for Re-Envisioning Your Public Library have soared since the release of the original guide in January 2016. On the website alone, there have been over 2,800 downloads of the Action Guide and it has reached professionals in more than 27 countries.  In response to outreach and communication with our community of practice, we released a new and improved Action Guide, Version 2.0.  and a companion Facilitator’s Guide. The Action Guide 2.0 streamlines and reorganizes content and activities into three main module or pathways (Learning Pathway, Leading Pathway and Implementing Pathway) for easier use and customization. With the ongoing deployment of the vision framework across the country, we designed the Facilitator’s Guide for library staff or facilitators engaged in professional development, community engagement and strategic planning. We continued to work with state libraries, associations and other professional groups to advance the Aspen Institute framework through workshops and training sessions aimed at strengthening the capacity of local library leaders to engage more often and effectively with other community leaders.

With signature events in Denver and Houston this year, the Aspen Institute Dialogue completed a series of model community-library dialogues. The Aspen Institute Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries took place in Denver, CO in May, in partnership with the Colorado State Library. The Colorado Dialogue featured a conversation on libraries with Gov. John Hickenlooper and an engaged conversation among local and state leaders that has led to the development of new partnerships and additional engagement with libraries across the state.

The Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries, held in partnership with the Houston Public Library, took place in November after rescheduling was required from the original September dates due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey. The dialogue featured a press conference with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. As part of preparation for the November event, the Aspen Institute convened a hurricane response and recovery conversation at the Houston Public Library among city government, nonprofit and business leaders on September 14 as an opportunity to discuss the needs and priorities that would shape the full Houston Dialogue later in the fall.

Both the Colorado and Houston Dialogues included opening presentations on innovative library services, a moderated roundtable and break-out sessions with government, nonprofit, education, business and library leaders. Reports of these dialogues, including recommendations of the participants and activities underway since the dialogues convened, will be released in early 2018, even as activities led by the dialogue partners are already underway in each locale

Over the past three years, we have convened the Connecticut Dialogue on Public Libraries, the Winter Park (FL) Library Dialogue, the Sutter County (CA) Dialogue on Public Libraries, the Aspen Institute Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries, and the Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries, representing a variety of models for engaging state and local leaders and community partners to advance new thinking about the role of public libraries. Participants from these dialogues continue to work to implement strategies and action steps identified in their respective reports with leadership from the library partners in each community. Visit to learn more about the models and to download resources and templates that were used in each community. (Note: We released the report of the Sutter County Dialogue on Public Libraries earlier this year.)

The Communications and Society Program would like to extend our thanks to the Dialogue’s fellow Susan Hildreth, Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the University of Washington School of Information, to Dialogue advisor Maureen Sullivan, and to other Dialogue ambassadors who brought the Dialogue vision and resources to a diverse group of audiences in the US and abroad throughout the year.

We invite you to join the Library Vision community at where we will be inviting and sharing stories and resources that re-envision the public library.