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Foreword - Amy Garmer

Public libraries are places of discovery and imagination and they have long served as a societal equalizer. Today’s libraries play an important role in supporting a range of services and priorities for individuals, families and communities—including literacy and learning, career and workforce readiness, digital skills development and civic engagement. They are community anchors and a key part of the lifelong learning pipeline. In the California Research and Education Network (CalREN) managed by the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, or CENIC, California public libraries have a powerful resource to carry out their important work to expand and democratize learning and civic opportunities.

CENIC advances education, research and the public good by providing an advanced digital communications network that is essential for innovation, collaboration and economic growth in the 21st century. Membership in the CENIC network is comprised of research institutions in California and their partners around the globe, colleges and universities, community colleges, K-12 schools, public libraries, cultural institutions and a growing number of affiliate organizations who share the mission to advance education and research for public benefit. Public libraries are among the newest partners to connect to the CENIC network. Since 2013, the State of California and local communities have made significant investments to connect library systems and branches to CENIC’s network that is orders of magnitude faster than libraries have previously experienced. But connecting to the network is just the first step.

As the new kids on the CENIC block, public libraries are exploring ways to leverage the insights, experimentation and innovations of other institutions on the network and to harness their CENIC connectivity to create innovative new services for their communities. They recognize that the introduction of high-speed, networked technologies can extend libraries’ work to activate the human imagination in new ways and provide new platforms for innovation and entrepreneurial activity—if libraries can close the gaps and overcome the barriers that create challenges to using the network more completely.

With grant support from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries convened the “Beyond Connectivity: Gigabit Network Use in California Public Libraries” conference on December 4-5, 2018 in Sacramento to examine how public libraries in California are using the CENIC network and to identify what more can be done to support the development of advanced library services using new digital technologies. Conference participants examined ways to accelerate the development and uptake of innovative applications for gigabit connectivity with a focus on priorities in education, workforce and career readiness, equity in community design and civic participation.

While some libraries are using high-speed networks in innovative ways, a white paper prepared by John B. Horrigan as background reading for the conference found that many are simply using CENIC bandwidth for operational efficiencies. The conference identified two gaps—an expectations gap and a broadband-imagination gap—that impede the ability of public libraries to take advantage of the CENIC network’s capacity as rapidly and as programmatically as many library leaders would like to do.

To close these gaps, the roundtable recommended the creation of “collaborative blueprints for action” for public libraries, other CENIC members, (e.g., colleges and universities, K-12 schools), and other key stakeholders. Conference participants made it clear that the will for innovation is strong, it is the way that is not as clear. Critical to achieving success is having an ongoing forum which presently does not exist for leaders in these institutions to come together and address critical areas of interest and areas of need to develop deeper partnerships and resources.

The following report provides a snapshot of some of the things that California libraries are doing with high-speed bandwidth now and identifies the factors beyond better bandwidth that allow libraries and communities to take advantage of CENIC. It addresses technical, economic, institutional and other challenges that California public libraries face in getting the most out of CENIC’s network. Finally, the report presents recommendations for accelerating uptake and innovation in the use of CENIC by focusing on three areas of opportunity where CENIC bandwidth can be used: universal pre-kindergarten, youth learning and engagement, and civic participation.

As the nation confronts widening gaps in wealth, education and participation, public libraries are neutral, free and inclusive public spaces that provide access, promote learning and build trusted relationships in communities. By building on this access and trust, and abundant bandwidth provided through CENIC, California’s public libraries are expanding opportunities for the people and communities they serve in ways that are critical to closing these troubling gaps.

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