“Outside the Lines” at ICMA

Photo of David Singleton, Director of Libraries for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, with Public Library Association (PLA) Past President Carolyn Anthony, PLA Director Barb Macikas and PLA President Larry Neal after a tour of ImaginOn.

(From left) David Singleton, Director of Libraries for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, with Public Library Association (PLA) Past President Carolyn Anthony, PLA Director Barb Macikas and PLA President Larry Neal after a tour of ImaginOn.

This week, many libraries are inviting their communities to reconnect as part of a national effort called Outside the Lines (September 14-20). Since my personal experience of new acquaintances often includes an exclamation of “I didn’t know libraries did that,” and this experience is buttressed by Pew Internet Project research that finds that only about 23 percent of people who already visit our libraries feel they know all or most of what we do, the need to invite people to rethink libraries is clear.

On the policy front, this also is a driving force behind the Policy Revolution! initiative–making sure national information policy matches the current and emerging landscape of how libraries are serving their communities. One of the first steps is simply to make modern libraries more visible to key decision-makers and influencers.

One of these influential groups, particularly for public libraries, is the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), which concluded its 100th anniversary conference in Charlotte this past week. I enjoyed connecting with city and county managers and their professional staffs over several days, both informally and formally through three library-related presentations.

The Aspen Institute kicked off my conference experience with a preview and discussion of its work emerging from the Dialogue on Public Libraries. Without revealing any details that might diminish the national release of the Aspen Institute report to come in October, I can say it was a lively and engaged discussion with city and county managers from communities of all sizes across the globe. One theme that emerged and resonated throughout the conference was one related to breaking down siloes and increasing collaboration. One participant described this force factor as “one plus one equals three” and referenced the ImaginOn partnership between the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

A young patron enjoys a Sunday afternoon at ImaginOn.

A young patron enjoys a Sunday afternoon at ImaginOn.

While one might think that the level of library knowledge and engagement in the room was perhaps exceptional, throughout my conversations, city and county managers described new library building projects and renovations, efforts to increase local millages, and proudly touted the energy and expertise of the library directors they work with in building vibrant and informed communities. In fact, they sounded amazingly like librarians in their enthusiasm and depth of knowledge!

Dr. John Bertot and I shared findings and new tools from the Digital Inclusion Survey, with a particular focus on how local communities can use the new interactive mapping tools to connect library assets to community demographics and concerns. ICMA is a partner with the American Library Association (ALA) and the University of Maryland Information Policy & Access Center on the survey, which is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Through our presentation (ppt), we explored the components of digital inclusion and key data related to technology infrastructure, digital literacy and programs and services that support education, civic engagement, workforce and entrepreneurship, and health and wellness. Of greatest interest was–again–breaking down barriers…in this case among diverse datasets relating libraries and community priorities.

Finally, I was able to listen in on a roundtable on Public Libraries and Community Building in which the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) shared the Edge benchmarks and facilitated a conversation about how the benchmarks might relate to city/county managers’ priorities and concerns. One roundtable participant from a town of about 3,300 discovered during a community listening tour that the library was the first place people could send a fax; and often where they used a computer and the internet for the first time. How could the library continue to be the “first place” for what comes next in new technology? The answer: you need to have facility and culture willing to be nimble. One part of preparing the facility was to upgrade to a 100 Mbps broadband connection, which has literally increased traffic to this community technology hub as people drive in with their personal devices.

I was proud to get Outside the Lines at the ICMA conference, and am encouraged that so many of these city and county managers already had “met” the 21st century library and were interested in working together for stronger cities, towns, counties and states. Thanks #ICMA14 for embracing and encouraging library innovation!

About Larra Clark

As Deputy Director of the American Library Association's Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), Larra’s responsibilities include overall management of OITP’s telecommunications portfolio and day-to-day management of America’s Libraries for the 21st Century (AL21C) projects and those in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Previously, she served as the project manager in the ALA Office for Research & Statistics for three years.

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