The National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA) has an ambitious goal: to conduct foundational research documenting and illuminating the potential of library public programs to fortify libraries, strengthen communities, and improve lives.
In today’s fast-changing world, library programming is increasingly integral to enhancing library responsiveness and adaptability. Through programming, libraries identify, address, and reflect community needs; enhance their institutional capacity and services; and contribute deeply to our democratic society. But the library field has lacked sufficient data on whether, and how, these efforts are working—knowledge that is necessary in order to prepare the library workers of today and tomorrow to provide the best possible library experiences for our communities.
Our NILPPA work began with a planning project, concluded in 2014, that confirmed the need for national research in this field. The project’s first report, National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment White Paper, was published in December 2014; it garnered hundreds of comments from the library and information sciences (LIS) field and established a foundation for ongoing research. Since then, the field has moved forward in exciting ways, with significant impact measurement, community engagement, and leadership training that has further established the importance of programming to libraries’ work.
With National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment Phase 1: A White Paper on the Dimensions of Library Programs and the Skills and Training for Library Program Professionals, we take the first steps toward codifying what many of us in the library field already know: the programming work coming out of libraries is extraordinarily diverse and important, and creating successful programming requires a broad array of skills and competencies that sometimes we may neglect to fully appreciate.
The following pages summarize the findings of our national research effort, conducted between 2017 and 2019, that explored the dimensions of public programs and related competencies. In the course of our research, we heard from practitioners that, unlike other areas of information science expertise, the skills needed to deliver great programs are acquired at different points of professional development—often in ad hoc circumstances. Likewise, many aspects of library programming have developed by happenstance and are inspired by immediate need. By exploring important dimensions for categorizing public programming and providing a set of related competencies, our research provides critical groundwork needed for future studies of program impact.
We hope this white paper will advance the field’s understanding of how, when, and why library programming is happening. Our intent is for practitioners to see themselves and their communities in this research and use these frameworks to affirm and enhance their programming; for these findings to illuminate the possibilities for LIS programs to expand their curricula to meet the needs of a field that uses programming as the most direct pathway to community; and to inform ALA professional development efforts in support of emerging needs in the field.
NILPPA’s future phases will build on Phase I’s programming framework and practitioner competencies by documenting the skills and mastery levels necessary to public programming and assessment and by exploring how best to evaluate and respond to community need, document impact, and foster a culture of evaluation. These efforts will support best practices and contribute to a broader understanding of the societal value of library programming. Ultimately, program participants and community members will benefit from quality programming that serves their greatest needs and interests, providing them with the necessary resources to reach their individual and collective potential.
Mary Davis Fournier
ALA Public Programs Office