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Libraries 2015 - Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries?
The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries is a multi-stakeholder forum to explore and champion new thinking on U.S. public libraries, with the goal of fostering concrete actions to support and transform public libraries for a more diverse, mobile and connected society. It focuses on the impact of the digital revolution on access to information, knowledge and the conduct of daily life. Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, the Dialogue seeks to shape and advance a renewed national vision for public libraries in the 21st century.

With the assistance of thought leaders from business, technology, education, government, the nonprofit sector and libraries, the Dialogue on Public Libraries considers the changing role of public libraries and seeks to articulate a renewed vision for the vital role they serve as community platforms to advance educational and other opportunities in a knowledge-based society. The Dialogue is a catalyst for identifying ways in which communities can leverage investments in these essential public institutions to develop richer information ecologies, build stronger communities and forge new partnerships for achieving local and national goals. Through its working group convenings, outreach and engagement with diverse stakeholders, commissioned papers, published report and other activities, the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries seeks to ensure that public libraries remain as accessible and relevant to the needs of current and future generations as they have for previous generations of Americans.

Why was the Dialogue created?
As trusted institutions, libraries serve their communities in many ways—by improving digital literacy; providing after school opportunities; and connecting people to jobs, educational opportunities and critical community services. Yet, despite these benefits, libraries face ongoing challenges with budget cuts and the need to adapt in an increasingly digital society.

The Dialogue on Public Libraries was created to help advance the work that public libraries are doing to address community challenges and to support the transformation of public libraries for the digital age. By amassing the knowledge and leadership across the library field, and developing networks of committed individuals from inside and outside the library field to champion new thinking and change efforts going forward, the Dialogue aims to ignite new thinking and develop innovative solutions that can launch public libraries into the future.

Why was the Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation convened?
In August 2015, the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, hosted a Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation, part of the Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries project. Leaders and policy makers from government, business and civil society were charged with exploring ways to accelerate the transformation of public libraries, with the realization that transformation will be driven by three factors: (1) new narratives about the library’s role in society, (2) a culture of innovation that promotes new relationships, new networks and new forms of participation, and (3) committed, transformative leadership within the library profession as well as from other community partners including government, media, technology and civic stakeholder groups.

At the Leadership Roundtable, working groups were each asked to explore innovations in library practice in one of three areas where the library serves a critical role in communities: Access and Inclusion; Learning and Creativity, or Public Forum and Citizenship.

What is the Communications and Society Program?
The Communications and Society Program is an active venue for framing policies and developing recommendations in the information and communications fields.  As one of over thirty policy programs at the Aspen Institute, the Program provides a multi-disciplinary space where veteran and emerging decision-makers can develop new approaches and suggestions for communications policy.  The Program enables global leaders and experts to explore new concepts, exchange insights, develop meaningful networks, and find personal growth, all for the betterment of society. 

The Program’s projects range across many areas of information, communications and media policy.  Activities focus on issues of open and innovative governance, public diplomacy, institutional innovation, broadband and spectrum management, as well as the future of content, issues of race and diversity, and the free flow of digital goods, services and ideas across borders.

Who leads the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program?
Charles M. Firestone is executive director of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program. Since his appointment in December 1989, the Program has focused on the implications of communications and information technologies for leadership, the impact of new technologies on democratic and social institutions, and the development of new communications policy models and options for the public interest. He was also the Institute's executive vice president for policy programs and international activities from 1997-2000.

Prior to his positions with the Aspen Institute, Mr. Firestone was director of the Communications Law Program at the University of California at Los Angeles and an adjunct professor of law at the UCLA Law School. He was also the first president of the Los Angeles Board of Telecommunications Commissioners, which advises the Mayor and City Council on all regulatory matters relating to the cable and telecommunications fields.

Mr. Firestone's career includes positions as an attorney at the Federal Communications Commission, as director of litigation for a Washington DC public interest law firm, and as a communications and entertainment attorney in Los Angeles. He has argued several landmark communications cases before the United States Supreme Court and other federal appellate courts. Mr. Firestone is the editor or co-author of seven books, including Digital Broadcasting and the Public Interest (The Aspen Institute, 1998) and Television and Elections (The Aspen Institute, 1992), and has written numerous articles on communications law and policy.
He holds degrees from Amherst College and Duke University Law School and resides with his wife, sculptor Pattie Porter Firestone, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.