NILPPA Current Research

Reports and updates from the NILPPA project will be publicly shared as they become available over the two-year initiative. Readers are strongly encouraged to share and comment on this work.

Questions? Contact ALA’s Public Programs Office at publicprograms@ala.org.


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What Do Academic Degree Programs Teach about Public Programming?

Planning public programs is a skill that’s more and more important to library work, and we wanted to know: is that reflected in the curriculum? As part of our comprehensive review of the library programming landscape, we explored requirements in library degree programs across the US.

In 2017, we looked at all of the publicly available material on the websites of 58 English-language ALA-accredited library degree programs[1]. That information includes overviews, course listings and descriptions, specializations and concentrations, and highlighted competencies. Here’s what we found:Read more


What Is a Public Program, Anyway?

As we began our research into library programming skills, we realized that programs are a lot like art. That is, we knew it when we saw it – but we had a hard time articulating a definition that everybody agreed on.

We started with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which defines a program this way:

A program is any planned event which introduces the group attending to any of the broad range of library services or activities or which directly provides information to participants. Programs may cover use of the library, library services, or library tours. Programs may also provide cultural, recreational, or educational information, often designed to meet a specific social need.”

But we found this definition simultaneously too narrow and too broad.Read more


How Do We Learn to Run Library Programs?

“My event planning, volunteering for 16 years doing cultural events for my school district, and my theater/musician training helped a lot.”

“These are basic life skills learned by parents (e.g. doing homework in grade school, planning a birthday party, etc.).”

“Working in a very high-scale restaurant as a server and working in a public museum on the visitor services side of things helped me gain skills in good customer services and event planning.”

Between September and November 2017, the NILPPA team surveyed more than 1,200 library programming staff about their professional experience. They come from all around the country and from all types of libraries.

In an earlier post, we looked at the skills staff need. Here, we look at how library workers acquired relevant skills.

We quickly realized that the overwhelming majority had benefited from informal training — and less than half of them thought their formal training was relevant to the everyday work of planning programs. For many of them, past experience outside libraries is also essential to their ability to run public programs.Read more


What Skills Make for Good Library Programming?

“What skills or abilities do you think are necessary to successfully run public programs at libraries?”

More than 1,200 library professionals from all around the country and from all types of libraries weighed in on this question last fall as part of the NILPPA research. As we read their responses, we found nine categories of skills that came up time and again.
Read more


The Wide and Wild World of Programming

Makerspaces. Beekeeping classes. All-ages coloring. Glow-in-the-dark storytime. Butchering demonstrations. Reading aloud to therapy dogs. Slumber parties for adults. A Lego robotics team. What is your library doing?

Libraries across the US are offering some incredibly cool programming — and yet it’s been challenging to document the full range of what’s happening. That’s one of NILPPA’s core questions: How can we characterize and categorize public programs offered by libraries today?

We want to know what types of program are being offered, who is offering them, and how. Down the line, this information will help us understand the impact of public programming. But first, we need a baseline.Read more


Kicking off NILPPA in 2017: $500,000 IMLS research grant will strengthen library public programming across the nation

IMLS has awarded a $512,000 research grant to the American Library Association (ALA) that will enable libraries across the country to understand the value of their public programming and the skills needed to achieve excellence in this work. The funding supports research into the characteristics, audiences, outcomes, and impact of library public programming, which has become a core library service.

The project, National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA): Phase I, will provide essential information to the nation’s libraries as they continue to serve their communities through public programming. Its results will build a strong community of practice, reaching individual libraries of all types and sizes.

The research project is led by ALA’s Public Programs Office in collaboration with researchers from New Knowledge Organization Ltd., an interdisciplinary social science think tank. With a network of researchers, practitioner-researchers, and advisors spearheading the initiative, NILPPA will further solicit input from library professionals across the field, so results reflect their day-to-day needs and experiences.

“ALA believes that a research project of this scale will have tremendous impact on the future of library public programming, and we are excited to have such a talented group of library practitioners, academics and MLIS instructors to lead the effort,” said Mary Davis Fournier, deputy director of the ALA Public Programs Office. “These advisors will lead the unprecedented work of creating taxonomies of library programs to closely examine the skills librarians leverage to benefit their communities.” Read more