Impact Areas

NILPPA advisors from across the library sector identified nine specific areas where library programs can make meaningful differences in people’s lives. We arrived at these definitions through discussions with NILPPA advisors from across the library sector, a survey of library professionals, and synthesis of prior work. The word validity has some means in research we would not be comfortable with in this context.

According to our research, library programming can help create: 

1. Connected communities

The word “connected” can mean many things to many people. For NILPPA, we’re defining connected communities as those with high levels of social capital. “Social capital” is a term used frequently in sociology, with various definitions. For NILPPA, we follow Robert Putnam’s definition of social capital as “the intangible benefits people gain access to through social relationships, and in particular, to those norms and networks that facilitate trust, cooperation, reciprocity, and collective action” (paraphrased from Putnam, 1995). That is, communities with strong connections (high social capital) follow mutually agreed-upon norms and give back to others and to the community as a whole. This can contribute to other impact areas such as civic engagement, welcoming newcomers, and caring for others.

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Photo of the phrase "Come Together" painted on a wall in a parking lot.

2. Knowledgeable communities

We consider two factors to be essential for a knowledgeable community; libraries have long contributed to both. The first is access to reliable information on a wide range of topics — the bread and butter of libraries. However, making information available is not in and of itself sufficient for community members to be knowledgeable on the issues that affect them. The community also needs high levels of information literacy: that is, the critical thinking skills and norms needed to identify reliable information sources and make evidence-based decisions. Helping patrons acquire these skills is an area libraries worldwide have increasingly focused on in recent years.

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A person is analyzing colorful printed charts and graphs on a wooden desk. A Samsung Galaxy tablet displaying its home screen is placed nearby. Highlighters, a pen, and sticky notes are also scattered on the desk.

3. Creative communities

Creative communities nurture the arts and promote participatory creativity. In such a community, members have opportunities to express themselves through art, music, and other creative endeavors — and to earn a living through such pursuits, if they want. For a career as a creative professional to be feasible, a community needs to provide support and resources to these professionals, as well as opportunities for their creations to find an audience through exhibitions, performances, festivals, or other cultural events.

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4. Civically engaged communities

“Civic engagement” comes in different forms. Perhaps the first that comes to mind is involvement with political issues. Certainly, voting in local and national elections, attending town hall or school board meetings, and engaging in public discussion of issues affecting the community are important forms of civic engagement. But for NILPPA, we look at a wider range of activities, including membership in community organizations, volunteering, and community service. We define a civically engaged community as one whose members are encouraged to play an active role in civic life, and where public participation in community governance is an established norm.

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A black and white photo of a crowd of people. One person is prominently raising their hand, pointing with fingers extended upward. The scene appears to be in a dimly lit room or venue. The individuals in the crowd are mostly out of focus.

5. Healthy communities

By the most straightforward definition, a healthy community is one where all members can lead physically and mentally healthy lives. Meeting these needs sometimes depends on medical care, but healthy communities promote well-being in a more general sense — for example, through programs focused on nutrition, exercise, or navigating the health system. On a broader level, healthy communities undertake actions aligned with the five “social determinants of health” outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: healthcare access, safe living conditions, positive social relationships, financial stability, and access to quality education. Healthy communities take responsibility for individual and collective health. They provide opportunities for community members to learn about health issues affecting them and their community, and work together to improve health outcomes.

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A sunny day at a park with people enjoying leisure activities. Some individuals are cycling on a path, others are walking or sitting on the grass, and children are playing. Lush green trees and an expansive lawn create a serene atmosphere.

6. Economically vital communities

Economically vital communities continuously create the conditions that promote economic development and individual and collective prosperity. Much of this depends on governmental policy, but there are many ways that community members and community institutions (including libraries and local chambers of commerce) contribute to economic vitality. Economically vital communities work towards job readiness and help community members develop the skills to reach their full potential. Economically vital communities support local providers of goods and services, and help new entrepreneurs break into the marketplace. These activities lead to equitable participation in the local and regional economy, and ensure the equitable use of community goods, services, and natural and human resources.

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Aerial view of a large, green agricultural field with neatly aligned rows of crops. The field stretches towards a distant treeline under a blue sky with scattered clouds and visible jet trails. The sunlight gives a warm hue to the scene.

7. Welcoming communities

A welcoming community is “a location that has the capacity to meet the needs and promote inclusion of newcomers, and the machinery in place to produce and support these capacities” (Esses et al., 2010). That is, a welcoming community is one that takes a positive attitude toward newcomers and cultural diversity, and that is able to meet the needs of those newcomers. Similarly, Welcoming America focuses on support from local leadership in ensuring equitable access to public services, education, and participation in work and civic life. While these initiatives were developed in response to immigrant and refugee populations, the communities libraries serve may also be welcoming newcomers from within the US. For NILPPA, we define a welcoming community as one with a broad interest in protecting and promoting human rights.

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Graffiti art of a large red heart with the word "Welcome" spray-painted in stylized black letters across the center. There are white circular marks around the heart, giving a patterned background effect. The artwork is on a textured, weathered wall.

8. Joyful communities

Joy is one of the most basic and profound of all human emotions. It refers to feelings of happiness, delight, and elation, and can be experienced in connection with both the simple pleasures of life or as a deeper, abiding sense of contentment and fulfillment. On a collective level, joy is associated with feelings of community spirit and pride. A joyful community enables its members to experience all of these different forms of joy. More specifically, joyful communities create spaces where people can come together to have fun, be entertained, enjoy each other’s company, celebrate one another’s lives, and affirm both their histories and the futures they are making together. Libraries can help build joyful communities by creating programs that meet patrons’ needs for entertainment, amusement, and diversion, and that build a sense of place attachment and pride within the community.

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A young child sitting on a picnic table with a big smile and a book open on their lap.

9. Caring communities

A caring community is one that provides support to those in need, and whose members treat one another with compassion and empathy. Caring communities promote prosocial values and behaviors and help people make commitments to each other in ways that lead to interpersonal awareness and mutual helping. They also foster a sense of social responsibility, especially for the most vulnerable community members. Libraries can help build caring communities by creating spaces that allow for cooperative learning and group collaboration, and by developing programs that foster kindness, justice, tolerance, consideration, and concern for others.

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Two women wearing masks, standing under a canopy, organizing paper grocery bags. One wears a white t-shirt and gloves, holding an egg carton. The other in a red and gray shirt arranges items on a table. Rows of filled bags are in the foreground.