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.Read more and comment

A Note on “Public” Programming

While ALA PPO supports libraries of all types, the experiences, scenarios, and discussions explored in the NILPPA project to date have mostly been in the public, academic, and special library realm. (School libraries and school library programs are not a focus of this agenda.) One may wonder how the question of “public” programming is relevant in non-public libraries; for the NILPPA advisory team, the question laid in the very definition of the word “public.”Read more and comment

Initial Steps in the Project

– Preliminary Analysis –

To launch this project, NewKnowledge began by documenting the current state of programming in libraries through a meta-analysis of related documents in the ALA offices and ALA PPO archives and through feedback from a nationwide professional opinion survey from current library programmers, available as downloadable reports on ala.org/NILPPA under “Related Resources.” Both of these tasks confirmed a wide range of programs and audiences and a positive growth trend in programming. Both analyses turned up anecdotal evidence of the value of programs, but provided no standard process for assessing and documenting impact — a tool that would be of great importance for continued growth and value of programming in the library field.Read more and comment

Responding to the White Paper

NILPPA is designed to develop a research framework — a plan for the collection and interpretation of data regarding library programming — and to implement it over a five-year period. Considering both the importance of this work and the enormous variety of programs presented by libraries of all sizes and types, this project requires significant input from the library field. As described in the introduction, the first meetings have already taken place. This document both describes the content and outcomes of the preliminary work and invites further contributions and feedback from the field.Read more and comment

The Need for a Research Framework

Libraries have always been dynamic institutions. From their earliest days they have served numerous purposes, growing organically as new public needs arose. The United States was an early proponent of universal education and individual initiative, and the idea of giving the whole community equal access to books and knowledge intuitively aligned with this cultural principle. Read more and comment

Defining “Impact”

Understanding impact is critical to assure that the best possible programming is being developed to meet the greatest needs and interests, but a discussion of impact raises its own questions. Are the words “outcome” and “impact” interchangeable? Is there still a role for such traditional indicators of success as the number of participants? How will the many terms associated with evaluation co-exist in the research framework? These questions illustrate the complexity of the process ahead.Read more and comment

Components of a Research Framework

As noted, the concept of a research framework requires the development of a structure with multiple components. Such a structure goes beyond simply defining a suite of research methodologies (survey instruments, interviews, observation, case studies, focus groups, etc.); such tools must be comprehensive enough to align many components, including intended audiences, clarity of goals, community profile, program type (format, stand-alone, series, collaborative, etc.), and staff capacity. There will be many differences across these variables, requiring a framework designed to mitigate differences and build on core principles.Read more and comment

Building on Individual Strengths

One way to create flexibility in a research framework is to build upon an individual library’s current strengths and experience. The advisors noted the importance of relating research studies to library institutional engagement and strategic planning, allowing libraries to participate in those studies that best align with their own strategic priorities. Such an approach would help mitigate differences in sizes, types, and locations of libraries, so that each might build from its predetermined priorities.Read more and comment

Articulating Assumptions

Before developing research tools, this research framework must articulate the assumptions and theories to be tested. Read more and comment

Program Development: Key Issues

The first workshop in Philadelphia in January 2014 covered considerable ground in describing the types, audiences, and goals for library programming. Missing from their analyses were discussions of how public programming decisions are made. What are the best practices to guide this process and how might they differ from one type of program to another?Read more and comment

The Case for Collaboration

“No one should kid themselves . . . collaboration is not fluffy work. It is hard, frustrating, and unremittingly real, but it’s worthwhile and absolutely essential in this new age,” wrote Caroline Marshall more than a decade ago. Marshall, an experienced strategic planning consultant to cultural institutions, would receive no argument from those engaged in the sensitive work of bringing together multiple partners toward a common goal. The benefits of collaborative programming received great attention in the Chicago advisory workshop.Read more and comment

The Intuitive Library

Librarians have long been identified as intuitive trend watchers. “What we do well,” noted one NILPPA advisor, “is analyze the gaps in community needs. We have become known for that.”Read more and comment

The Programming Librarian

“We used to look at programming as a way to get people in and then get them to read.  Now programming is one of our core learning experiences,” noted one of the advisory workshop participants. “Now that programming has become central to what we do, we need more training and assessment.”Read more and comment

Research Audience

The stated goal for developing and implementing a comprehensive research framework is “to ensure all library stakeholders have access to information they need to make strategic policy and investment decisions that will further leverage the infrastructure and expertise that flow from libraries’ public programming.” The ultimate goal is to provide optimal benefit to the individuals and communities that are the participants in exemplary public programming in libraries. Thus, comprehensive research will guide library practice and create public value.Read more and comment

Assuring Participation

While it would seem that the multiple benefits of designing and initiating a comprehensive research framework would assure widespread participation across the library field, there are many potential barriers. The first is likely the fear of the process becoming burdensome. How will libraries feeling the weight of recent cutbacks free up staff to participate? How will the research process fit into the already heavy burden of completing numerous required surveys? How can the process meet the differing needs of small and large libraries, urban and rural libraries, academic and school libraries, contrasting geographic locations, and purposes that vary from serving specific academic needs to urban outreach? What will be the best way to “get the word out” across the library field?Read more and comment

Research Methods and Next Steps

– A Note on Ethics –

Dr. David Carr has framed the argument that evaluation requires that a phenomenon must be either askable or observable. This methodological simplification reveals a conundrum in light of this research project because the ethics of librarianship seem to oppose efforts to ask or observe individuals as they seek out information relevant to their lives. This resistance is not without sound reasoning. The principles that created the nation’s libraries and librarians’ professional and tacit codes of ethics have been fundamentally challenged by moral debates surrounding titles held by libraries and intrusive efforts to monitor, track, and persecute the learning behaviors of individuals. The library profession holds fast to the ethical principle that users have an absolute and inviolable right to privacy, and the interpretation of this ethical stance poses a challenge for the study of impacts and outcomes that accrue from library programs.Read more and comment