Economic developers partner with countless organizations, but we regularly neglect one of the most important public institutions that operates in most U.S. communities: the public library system. Libraries are more than simple repositories of books and information. They can be tremendous assets to help build talent, to help businesses access new markets, and to improve cultural understanding throughout a community. That’s why a new report from the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries is so important.
“Rising to the Challenge: Rethinking Public Libraries” envisions a new concept and role for a “library of the digital age.” Among the interesting concepts of this study is a new role for the library as a community anchor, where a mix of local residents can meet to learn and engage with one another. A “fully loaded” version of this library might include deliver co-working space for entrepreneurs and freelancers, an early education program for young children, workforce and education programs for immigrants and seniors, coding classes for teens, and learning opportunities for all. The report also presents a vision of better connected libraries so that even small rural locations can tap into state of the art technologies, tools, and data resources. This is not just about providing access to databases or e-books. Under the new models, libraries might include co-working spaces, maker spaces, video conferencing facilities, or access to new video and editing tools. Through these tools and others, libraries can help support community development and build a stronger civic spirit as well. In addition to the new project report, the other supporting materials of the larger Dialogue are also worth a look.