NILPPA’s Role in Understanding the Importance of Public Programming

Many individual libraries have reported data about their programs, but the library field has little aggregate data about the collective impact of programs or how programs have changed over time. The growth of programming is accompanied by several important questions: How do library programming workers prepare for their changing roles and responsibilities? What skills are needed? Where will they be learned? How will growth in programming impact library infrastructure and building needs? How do librarians select programs? How can they determine trends in community needs? What impacts are programs having at the community level? How can librarians enhance programming through strategic partnerships? How has the focus on programming impacted public perception of libraries? NILPPA’s multiphase research will examine these questions.

As a result of NILPPA: Phase I research, we established two frameworks: one for defining multiple dimensions of library public programming, and the second for identifying the competencies required to produce effective programs. The next research steps will add to this baseline research, continuing to build an understanding of the impact of library public programs on libraries, individuals, and communities.

NILPPA research also affirms the importance of programming research as an essential component of the library field. Libraries are not only gateways to learning for their patrons, they are also institutions of self-learning, knowledge- seeking, and innovation. As library workers respond to emerging community needs and interests—and libraries as an institution are viewed in new ways—library leaders need data to further understand the nature and effect of changing practices for the library, the program participants, and the community as a whole. They also need to ensure this vital work is visible and to share the changing image of libraries emerging from programming.

A children’s program at Anaheim (Calif.) Public Library

A children’s program at Anaheim (Calif.) Public Library


In early 2018, Forbes published, and quickly removed, an op-ed by economist Panos Mourdoukoutas arguing that Amazon had made libraries obsolete. Not surprisingly, the piece received thousands of responses from both library workers and library users—including the NILPPA white paper authors2 — who made it clear that libraries offered a vast number of services beyond the circulation of books. Following the public outcry, Forbes quickly made the unusual decision to delete the op-ed. All the same, the author’s original post made clear that many in our communities are unaware of contemporary library services. Librarians need the information emerging from research to articulate the vision of a 21st-century library and create broader public awareness and support.

Benefits of Programming

  • Individuals will benefit: Library programs are opportunities for continuing education and lifelong learning. They serve residents of all ages and income levels. They serve a community’s diversity through engaging entertainment, enrichment, and opportunities to encounter new ideas and learn new skills.
  • Communities will benefit: Programming helps develop a community voice and can support civic dialogues. It helps foster community networks, introduces residents, invites newcomers, and allows exploration of ideas in a safe environment. Programming opens doors to new partnerships that can extend the community identity.
  • Libraries will benefit: Cultural programs build awareness of the library and its value within the community, drawing increased attention to many important services the library provides. Program audiences are likely to return to the library to use collections and access electronic resources. They are also likely to communicate the value of the library to others.

The findings of this project will support core library practices, build programming competencies, and offer opportunities for new research partnerships. Ultimately, NILPPA will promote more and better public programs, and help us understand the benefits of these programs. Individuals, communities, and libraries will be best served through programs that address the changing needs of today’s society.

To understand the impact of library programs, we must consider these three types of benefits together. Furthermore, to ensure that they reach all audiences adequately, library workers need to understand and master core competencies associated with programming. They also need the means to document and analyze their work within the nationwide landscape of practices to effectively learn from each other and export successful programming strategies, as relevant, to other communities.

2. Barchas Lichtenstein, J., Norlander, R., & Robertson, D. (2018). Libraries Are about Much More than Books – and They Always Have Been. Accessed March 14, 2019:–-and-they-always-have-been

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