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? 

Read responses and provide your own feedback using the comment box below. Comments are moderated and will be posted within 24 hours. Please let us know whether you would like to make your comments public or keep them private.

Comments ( 6 )
  • Janis Young, Senior Librarian says:

    I think that when the project is complete and all comments have been evaluated, a picture will emerge of the strategies used by librarians to develop and produce programs. A comparison of those strategies could result in one or more models that will result in more effective program development for librarians. By effective program development I mean programs that will support the library’s mission, vision, and values statement.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: Ontario City Library
  • Vince Juliano says:

    I would like to track the level of the public’s identification of the presentation and hosting programs as an normal and expected role for public libraries. Is the level of acceptance and expectation growing as a result of increased programming or is it still seen by many as a special or secondary function of library service?

    • Martin Gagnon says:

      One of the impacts of library programs can be an emotional response or emotional impact and not necessarily something as easily measured as did this library user find a job because of the resume workshop the library held. I would like to see some discussion on how to assign a value to the emotional qualities, such as self-esteem, that programs can create.

      Also, is their different expectations of library programming by the different demographics. For example, do younger library users want media based programs?

      • Institution Name/Affiliation: Auburn Public Library
    • Cynthia Landrum says:

      1) Are public libraries using outcomes driven design or models in the development and implementation of public programs?
      2) How do libraries define “program” for the purposes of marketing, evaluation and funding.

      • Institution Name/Affiliation: Oak Park Public Library/Asst. Director for Public Service
    • Gretchen Schwarz says:

      I would like to know what demographics are taking advantage of library programming and who is not and what can be done to engage all.
      Also, given that people think their phone will tell them all they need to know, how does the public become educated to the value of things going on in the actual buildings?

      • Institution Name/Affiliation: Baylor University
    • So Much More Than Books! – Elba Public Library says:

      […] and lifelong learning. Since then, we have seen enormous growth in library programs, backed by field-wide statistics. At the same time, we hear library staff members describe programs as increasingly central to their […]

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *