Above: Wiring a Super Mario Bros. game controller in a community maker space at Rockwood Library in Multnomah County, Oregon. Credit: Multnomah County Library on Flickr. Amy Garmer is director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries. What happens if you shift the library to be the center of the community platform for innovation? Thirty dynamic leaders and innovators from the public and private sectors – all involved in re-envisioning the ways in which public libraries can adapt to the new needs of communities in the 21st century – joined my Aspen Institute colleagues and me at our Aspen Meadows campus in Colorado last August to explore answers to this question. Our three-day conversation included six senior staff members of Knight Foundation, whose grant to the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries made the conference possible. Key insights from our deliberations and recommendations for delivering on the promise of libraries transforming communities are available in a new report released today at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Boston. “Libraries in the Exponential Age: Moving From the Edge of Innovation to the Center of Community” (available at libraryvision.org) starts with a few basic facts about how innovation occurs. First, innovation mostly occurs at the edges of institutions. The challenge is to find pathways for new ideas and practices to move toward the center of the institution. Second, innovation is a team sport. Breakthroughs emerge from having the right people interacting in the right ecosystem. Third, cultures of innovation are shaped by members who bring the diverse perspectives and experiences of the tribes they come from: designers, geeks, artists, tinkerers, engineers, writers, business persons, teachers, librarians. While many libraries have yet to reach their full potential and have a wider impact as hubs for community innovation, nearly all public libraries have the key markers necessary to infuse innovation into the library’s DNA. Librarians in collaboration with partners from these other tribes can create the right ecosystems for innovation and pathways to pull new information, ideas and opportunities into the center of communities by doing the following: • Taking new approaches to developing and managing the human infrastructure of public libraries. For example, libraries can hire more “X-shaped” people. These are people who have expertise in two areas of endeavor, with special insight and ability to operate at the intersection of the two. Give the workforce permission, space, funding and tools to innovate.
Photo illustration using photos by Flickr users Sourabh Rath and Thomas Hawk. Knight News Challenge: Libraries offers applicants a chance to share in $2.5 million by focusing on the question, “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” Below, Amy Garmer, director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, writes about the need for libraries to become community learning platforms. The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy called on the nation to make every community in the United States an informed, engaged community: America needs a vision for “informed communities,” places where the information ecology meets the personal and civic information needs of people. This means people have the information they need to take advantage of life’s opportunities for themselves and their families. It also means they can participate fully in our system of self-government, to stand up and be heard. Paramount in this vision are the critical democratic values of openness, inclusion, participation, empowerment, and the common pursuit of truth and the public interest. This vision of a place where the information ecology meets the personal and civic information needs of people describes perfectly the public library! And it’s the starting point for the work we’re doing through the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries.