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.”

NILPPA seeks to understand the landscape of public programming and the competencies and training needed to support excellence in the field. Research will focus on two core questions: How can we characterize and categorize public programs offered by libraries today? And, what competencies and training are required for professionals working with library programming?

The project’s research findings will advance core library practices in numerous ways, as stated in the funded IMLS proposal. “Research results will be designed to strengthen advocacy, guide management, elicit community support and institutional engagement and encourage community advancement … By identifying the competencies for library programmers and encouraging new training opportunities, it will assure that this growing area of community service is well served.”

This research initiative is part of a multi-year research strategy, originally developed through an IMLS planning grant and published in a 2014 white paper. It emerges from the ALA Public Programs Office’s history of supporting libraries as places of cultural and civic engagement and its commitment to research and evaluation as tools for excellence.

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