An exploration of U.S. library public programs

Library workers see the impacts of library programs every day — from young people developing comprehension skills through summer reading programs, to older adults finding companionship and learning new skills through arts classes.

But the library field lacks sufficient data on whether, and how, these efforts are working — knowledge that is necessary in order to prepare the librarians of today and tomorrow to provide the best possible learning experiences for our nation.

“Libraries have expanded from collection holders and lenders to centers for lifelong experiential learning, hubs for civic and cultural gatherings, and partners in community-wide innovation,” said 2016-17 ALA President Julie Todaro. “Although data has been gathered for usage, popularity and the match of programs to community need for decades, contemporary data-gathering must be expanded and integrated into programs to illustrate 21st-century impact.”

Through the National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA), the American Library Association will collect and assess data from libraries across the country to understand and document the characteristics, audiences, outcomes and value of U.S. library public programming.

The first-of-its-kind project, conducted in collaboration with New Knowledge Organization Ltd., a social science think tank, will bring together a network of researchers, practitioner-researchers, and advisors to answer two research questions:

  1. How can we characterize and categorize public programs offered by libraries today?
  2. What competencies and training are required for professionals working with library programming?
During an intensive two-year research project, a series of surveys will be disseminated to library practitioners to help map the existing landscape of library public programming, including program types, topics, formats, audiences, partner relationships and current competencies, and also to identify those skills required in the field that, perhaps, are not being adequately taught in formal learning settings.

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NILPPA: Phase I is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant number LG-96-17-0048-17.