As U.S. libraries transform to meet the needs of a changing nation, public programming is rising to the forefront of their daily operations. While libraries have always had a broad educational mission and an esteemed role as collection holders and lenders, the 21st century is witnessing their rapid transformation to centers for lifelong experiential learning, hubs for civic and cultural gatherings, and partners in community-wide innovation. To date, little national data is available to understand the impact of this shift on libraries, library users, or their communities, or to describe effective practices across the field. National research— including the findings shared in this white paper—is imperative to assess current program offerings in libraries of all types as well as to identify the skills and training necessary to support library workers as they address these new demands.
Through a research grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the American Library Association (ALA) conducted the first phase of a multi-year, multi-part research project to document the characteristics, outcomes, and value of public programs and to contribute information to help prepare future generations of library workers to excel in this work. The National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA) is a natural outgrowth of ALA’s mission “to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” To serve that mission, this intensive first phase of NILPPA has brought together a network of researchers, practitioner-researchers, and advisors to explore two foundational questions:
- How can we characterize and categorize public programs offered by libraries today?
- What competencies and training are required for professionals working with library programming today?
Over the past two years, NILPPA researchers have developed a deeper understanding of the current nature of library programming and created a baseline for future work on trends and forecasting. Establishing a multidimensional picture of library programming and defining emerging training needs sets the foundation for future phases of research, which will ultimately enable the individual library to situate itself within national trends. This work will also help the library field assess community-wide impacts and document the elements of programming that assure its greatest success.