The Transforming Role of Public Libraries

Public libraries have always had a broadly educational mission though the public has long thought of them primarily as book custodians. This two-part study lays a foundation for assessing the impact of these institutions by looking at current programs and identifying important skills that library programming professionals need.

by Beverly SheppardKate FlinnerRebecca Joy NorlanderMary Davis Fournier
Jun 28, 2019

Key Findings

The dramatic rise in the number of public programs offered by libraries is having a transformative effect on communities across the US. This impact is the result of libraries thinking more deliberately about which community members they are trying to reach, and why. In collaboration with the Public Programs Office of the American Library Association, we looked in depth at the intended outcomes of library programs. Some we knew would be important, such as helping people learn new knowledge or skills, or changing their attitudes or behaviors. We validated these skills through an extensive research process where we surveyed more than a thousand library workers to get their take on the intended outcomes of library programming. Our analysis showed that in addition, public library programs provide a way for people to have fun and feel inspired, and promote stronger and healthier communities.

Let’s Put It to Work

For libraries:

Programming librarians know that the most frequent ways of characterizing programs - by topic and target audience age - are not the most helpful for understanding the true breadth and depth of library programs. The information offered in this white paper will help library professionals assess their current programs in light of intended outcomes, leading to more deliberate and effective program development.

About This Study

The National Impact of Library Public Program Assessment (NILPPA) was a two-year study that featured curriculum reviews, national surveys, interviews, and discussions about current program offerings and the skills that library professionals need to design and implement programs effectively. NILPPA is a research partnership of the American Library Association Public Programs Office and Knology, with support from IMLS. For more information about the NILPPA initiative, visit

Partners for this Study

American Library Association Public Programs Office

Photo credit: Olympia Timberland Library on Flickr

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