Report: Rising to the Challenge
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- Maureen Sullivan
Visions are by nature aspirational, as are public libraries. Libraries reflect the community at its best—engaged, striving, participating, achieving, discovering, creating and innovating. The power to re-envision public libraries is the power to re-envision our communities for success in the digital era.
Re-envisioning the public library for every community will require a unity of purpose and action by stakeholders at all levels. Everyone has a stake in building healthy and engaged communities; every stakeholder is a library stakeholder.
Acting on the framework presented in this report starts with a shared recognition of the vital role public libraries are playing, will play and can play in the digital arena and a commitment to take advantage of the possibilities.
To get started, public libraries, library directors, library staff and their supporters must forge new partnerships and collaborations in the community and align their work with the community’s goals. But libraries and their supporters are only one part of the equation. Re-envisioning the public library is a broad effort that requires the community and its elected leaders to recognize their stewardship of this valuable public asset. Accordingly, government and other leaders are called upon to support the transformation of public libraries by heeding the call to action and advancing the actions steps recommended in this report.
Leadership at the local level is crucial, as public libraries are a quintessentially local institution of democratic society. However, if we are to realize the vision of a national digital platform and networks of knowledge, innovation and creativity spanning the country, then state and national leadership and investment will be essential to coordinating and sustaining such an enterprise.
Library, government and civic leaders will have to adopt new thinking about the public library if we are to achieve a nation of informed, engaged communities. This thinking rests on understanding what makes the library uniquely valuable to the communities beginning with its people, place and platform assets upon which the community can build a successful future together. It also rests on the uniquely public value proposition grounded in the principles of equity, access, opportunity, openness and participation. These are also values at the heart of American democracy. While the vision speaks to the role of the public library and its relationship to the public, it is essentially a vision for the quality of the democratic communities that we want to nourish and sustain in the 21st century.
Libraries are essential partners with government, business and nonprofit community partners in achieving our national aspirations. All stakeholders should ask themselves, what can I do to help connect the community to the 21st-century knowledge society?—and then go to the public library to learn the answer.