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CHAPTER 1 - Overview

Public libraries in California are in the midst of an historic shift in their ability to serve their communities. For their digital connectivity needs, most libraries now have access to the state’s research and education network, CalREN, managed by the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC). This network offers connections speeds between 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) and 100 Gbps. What are libraries doing with this bandwidth and what should they and other stakeholders do with it? This question animated a series of conversations that the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries convened with public library officials and other stakeholders in California.

The CENIC network offers California public libraries a prism through which to reimagine how they serve their communities. The discussions at the Aspen Institute’s “Beyond Connectivity: Gigabit Network Use in California Public Libraries” conference showed that libraries are already using their new bandwidth capacity in innovative ways, but more needs to be done to take full advantage of CENIC. By embarking on new bandwidth-driven programs and services, libraries can change expectations about their role in addressing community challenges. At the same time, libraries themselves must do more than simply use CENIC bandwidth for operational efficiencies; they must collaborate amongst themselves and outside partners to further innovate services by using this robust bandwidth.

To reset expectations, participants recommended a collaborative blueprint for action for all stakeholders in California—public libraries, state policymakers, local government officials, education leaders, the private sector, and the non-profit community. These parties should examine how CENIC bandwidth can contribute to solving three problems, with libraries as a fulcrum:

  • Providing universal pre-kindergarten services, with a specific role in employment certification for those who want to work in the pre-K field;
  • Expanding youth programs, with an emphasis on digital storytelling to improve literacy and empower youth voices;
  • Promoting civic engagement, particularly as it relates to voting, the 2020 Census, and public safety.

The local public library is among the most trusted of any community anchor institution. Combining that trust with abundant bandwidth can expand possibilities for the communities that libraries serve.

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