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Moving from agenda to action for libraries

Cape May Public Library, Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May Public Library, Cape May, New Jersey

What a difference a year makes! I had a few moments to reflect on this in preparation for a working session with our nation’s state librarians last week at the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies’ (COSLA) Fall Meeting. We traded Teton Village, WY, bears for Cape May, NJ, yellow-rumped warblers in the landscape, but more importantly we built on our progress co-developing the National Policy Agenda for Libraries.

Last year, we spent several productive hours with state librarians and participants from IMLS, the Aspen Institute and Mountain State libraries to discuss how libraries and librarians contribute to important national goals, and how might we translate this into a national public policy agenda. Among the issues that emerged were:

  • the concept of libraries as a critical national infrastructure (or backbone) for this country;
  • the need for improved digital content systems to support public access and preservation;
  • the roles libraries can play in a time of disruption in formal education; and
  • the difficulty of translating locally based and funded services into a national agenda. One size does not fit all, but we do need to find common language and boost awareness of modern libraries as essential institutions.

I heard reverberations of many of these points in presentations last week on e-book innovations, the Digital Public Library of America, and STEM, state library agencies and public libraries. And they certainly were reflected in the draft policy agenda shared in January.


Thanks to feedback from the Library Advisory Committee (including state librarians Ann Joslin from Idaho, Susan McVey from Oklahoma and Ken Wiggin from Connecticut representing COSLA), I believe we crafted an agenda that broadly reflects the strengths and values of the profession at the intersection of national policy priorities. And, as Ken mentioned in the opening to our session last week, we did it all in less than a year!

But the agenda was not meant to sit on a shelf nor to be adopted as a whole by any single group. Rather we hope various entities will connect their policy priorities under the rubric of the national agenda to build shared momentum. The national agenda also may serve as a model or template for planning and action at the state and local levels, which was a focus of our time with COSLA.

COSLA Vice President Sandra Treadway led the working session after a few opening remarks from Alan Inouye, Ann, Ken and me. Small groups considered library strengths, capacity needs and potential partners related to Education & Learning, Employment & Entrepreneurship, Health & Wellness, Heritage & History, and Veterans & Military Families. A common theme among the needs were increased broadband capacity (e.g., to support telehealth and digitization uploads and downloads), investments in library building upgrades and staff capacity, and increased awareness among potential funders and partners (e.g., having a scanner does not equate to digitization success). Potential and existing partners ran the gamut from medical schools to workforce investment boards to public television.

Sandra and a working group of COSLA members will now take these notes and consider the most promising path(s) forward in supporting COSLA priorities and local library needs. We also learned a lot that will directly inform our work at the national level, along with conversations with leaders in the Association of Rural and Small Libraries and others inside the library community and beyond. As I would have shouted at Arizona Wildcat games in my youth, it’s time to “bear down” on moving the ball on policies and partnerships that add to library capacities to meet diverse community needs.

Finally, I would like to thank Peggy Cadigan, Deputy State Librarian for Innovation & Outreach at the New Jersey State Library, and amateur birder for taking us out at 6:30 a.m. to see the warblers, ducks and hawks. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and it was a lovely start to a day of meetings and driving home. Thanks also to NJ State Librarian Mary Chute and her staff for a warm welcome to the Garden State, to the Cape May County Library for a wi-fi enabled work space, and to COSLA’s director and members for their leadership and partnership.

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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  1. […] Larra Clark reports, we had the pleasure of working with the “chiefs” (as in the Chief Officers of State Library […]

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