The Public Libraries Survey, conducted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2010, reported that public libraries across the United States had presented 3.75 million programs that year, an increase of 44.6% since 2004. That astonishing increase illustrates how programming has become a key library service and an essential component of how libraries connect people with ideas in a changing world. Throughout their history, libraries have redefined the nature of their services in response to community needs. Programming, whether it be for job-seekers, students, new Americans, or curious retirees, is a profound indicator of how libraries have continued to shift and add services that meet emerging changes and critical concerns in their surrounding communities.
Although library-based programming has long been an integral part of library service in all types of libraries, there are indications that it has taken on more significance in recent years. Whether documented in sheer numbers or in changing library layouts—from computer work stations to community meeting rooms, from children’s gathering places to classrooms for all kinds of public education—libraries continue to evolve as democratic gateways to learning. Public libraries are increasingly anchors to their communities, magnets for new immigrants, job centers for the unemployed, outposts for government services, and research centers for students. Academic libraries have transformed from quiet study chambers to vibrant centers for collaboration, debate, and exploration for both the university community and its neighbors. In all these services, librarians remain the essential knowledge guides.
The dramatic rise in public programming and audiences raises many questions. What are the current best practices in this service? Who initiates public programming in libraries? What criteria guide program selection? What competencies and training lead to excellence as a library programmer? What kinds of community partners are most suitable? How is funding obtained? How are public issues identified? And, ultimately, what is the impact of library programs, individually and collectively, on the people who attend?
The American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office (PPO), with funding from IMLS, seeks to explore these questions through the National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA). PPO and its research partner, New Knowledge Organization Ltd. (NewKnowledge), have initiated the first steps in planning and implementing a long-term, multifaceted research framework that seeks to understand the characteristics, audiences, impacts, and value of programming in libraries at the national level. The stated purpose of this project is to “ensure public and private sector leaders have the information they need to make strategic investment decisions that will further leverage the infrastructure and expertise of libraries.” Funders, policy makers, educators, librarians, and libraries’ institutional and civic partners may benefit from the findings of this study.
What questions about public programming — and its community impacts — do you hope this project will answer?
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