The Aspen Institute releases Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries

Monday, November 3, 2014

On Tuesday October, 14, 2014, the Aspen Institute, a Washington, DC-based educational and policy studies organization, released a report titled Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries that “looks at how – in an age of instant and abundant information – U.S. public libraries can drive community advancements unlike any other public institution.” Rising to the Challenge was produced by the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries forum, which was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by the institute’s Communications and Society Program.

iPAC researchers have studied the intersection between the public library and technology since 1994, and iPAC directors John C. Bertot and Paul T. Jaeger recently launched the which seeks to demonstrate the efforts U.S. public libraries make to build digitally inclusive communities. The 2013 Digital Inclusion Survey found that:

  • 97.5 percent of libraries offer WiFi
  • 89.5 percent offer e-books
  • 55.1 percent offer online language learning
  • 53.3 percent off workspace for mobile workers
  • 98 percent offer technology training to patrons
  • 33.2 percent train patrons in basic literacy skills
  • 80 percent offer programs that assist with job application skills
  • 45.5 percent host community engagement events
  • 55.5 percent host social connection events

Many of these findings from the 2013 study can be found in the Issue Briefs iPAC produces annually on topics like Broadband, Community Engagement, Digital Inclusion, and Employment. While the intended audience for these Issue Briefs are public libraries themselves, who use them to advocate within their communities for increased financial support, the study directors are glad to see them cited in Rising to the Challenge.

iPAC researchers agree with the authors of Rising to the Challenge that the nearly 17,000 U.S. public library outlets are well-positioned, and well-qualified, to “play a leading role in helping individuals and communities adapt to a changing world.” Hopefully Rising to the Challenge will help better inform policy makers and the general public about the important role public libraries can play in fostering digital inclusion, economic growth, and community engagement.