May 29, 2022

The Aspen Institute Releases New Report: “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries”

From a News Release:

“Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries” explores how public libraries can respond as the digital age increases the demand for high-speed information access, changes in our education systems, innovative job training models and additional community services to help people and communities compete in the new economy. The report is part of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The multiyear dialogue brings library professionals, policymakers, technology experts, philanthropists, educators and civic leaders together to explore the future of public libraries.


The “Rising to the Challenge” report recommends communities leverage three important library assets: connecting people and fostering relationships to strengthen the human capital of a community; using the both the physical and virtual spaces of libraries in new and innovative ways; and tapping into high-speed interactive platforms to curate and share ideas and knowledge.

It discusses the need for libraries to align their services more directly with the priorities of community leaders at a time when emerging technologies create a demand for digital literacy, new learning opportunities, job skills and more opportunities for people to communicate face to face. The report suggests libraries and local governments work more closely to create long-term financial sustainability, while also exploring other innovative business and revenue models.


The report highlights a number of examples of groundbreaking work and new ways public libraries are meeting the needs of their communities. It also includes 15 action steps that the Dialogue recommends for each of its stakeholder groups: library leaders, policymakers and the community. Among these recommendations are the following five for each group:

Library Leaders

  • Define the scope of the library’s programs, services and offerings around community priorities, recognizing that this process may lead to choices and trade-offs.
  • Collaborate with government agencies at the local, state and federal levels around shared objectives. This includes partnerships with schools to drive learning and educational opportunities throughout the community.
  • Partner with local businesses, chambers of commerce and community colleges to provide access to curricula and resources, technology and certification programs, and to job search resources to maintain a highly skilled yet highly flexible workforce.
  • Engage the community in planning and decision making, and seek a seat at tables where important policy issues are discussed and decisions are made.
  • Connect resources from other agencies or libraries to the library platform rather than reinventing the wheel or always going solo.


  • Use the authority of office to bring together community stakeholders to create a comprehensive strategic plan for the library and other knowledge institutions in the community.
  • Define libraries as part of the community’s priority infrastructure along with other established infrastructure priorities such as schools, transportation and parks, and make sustainable long-term funding that reflects the library’s value to the community a budget priority.
  • Develop strategic alliances and partnerships with local library leaders to advance educational, economic and social goals.
  • Leverage the economic development potential of the public library as a community platform.
  • Make access to government information a model for curating open data.


  • Collaborate on the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for the community’s information and knowledge ecosystem, including the library and other knowledge institutions in the community.
  • Develop strategic partnerships and alliances with public libraries around content or specific organizational or community needs.
  • Bring diverse expertise to bear on helping libraries create and share technology tools.
  • Connect knowledge resources in the community to the library’s knowledge networks.
  • Participate in the library’s platform for curating local history and culture.

Direct to Full Text Report (80 pages; PDF)

Direct to Web-Based Version the Report
It includes a collection of background readings, background papers, and case studies.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.