Reflections on the 2021 Convening on Libraries
Last week, we partnered with Knight Foundation to host a gathering of more than 100 of our library colleagues from across the country, to discuss how libraries can contribute to solving one of the most pressing issues facing our field—securing equitable internet access for everyone. We heard from a panel of library leaders about the ways in which libraries are building access in their communities, the available resources to fund this work, and the essential role libraries must play if we are to succeed in creating a path toward digital access and literacy for all Americans.
We invite you to watch a recording of the event here. We also asked several of our colleagues to share their impressions of and takeaways from the day.
The convening was simultaneously inspiring and challenging. Inspiring because we heard from library leaders such as Jill Bourne and Jennie Stapp about the critical and essential relief they provided their communities who were faced with lack of internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic. They demonstrated how library leaders can and must be part of the solution and work with their parent organizations and other community groups to help solve the critical issues caused by the digital divide. At the same time, attendees were challenged by the call to action sounded by Alberto Ibargüen and Tracie Hall that “now is the time, now is the moment” for libraries to lead the efforts and advocate for libraries to take a central role in breaking down barriers to broadband access and challenges born of systemic racism. —Migell Acosta, Director, San Diego County Library
To quote Tracie Hall, ALA Executive Director, “Broadband without digital skills is like cereal without milk.” I am inspired and grateful that the conversation has moved beyond simple access and delivery and into the area of true impact. Access to technology will not change someone’s life unless they know how to use it. Crosby Kemper, IMLS Director, spoke to this fundamental need as well when he emphasized a return to the basic skills, to include literacy. I’m inspired by the teamwork in communities such as San Jose and Philadelphia to create Digital Equity Strategies for their communities. The transition to speaking of equity as opposed to pure access seems to be an acknowledgment of moving into new areas of focus.
I am frequently pressing our library to find ways to transition our youth from consumers of technology to manipulators of technology. That’s how they will learn to be creative problem solvers with new tools. Of course, this is a multi-generational challenge, not one just for our youth. I’m hopeful we can combine our unique experience over the past year with examples of communities already working on initiatives to craft something impactful for our community. There definitely remains a need for data on access gaps within communities for us to support some of our claims especially in light of the pandemic response. —Jennifer Lautzenheiser, Director, Middle Georgia Regional Library
Our June 28th meeting also included big news on the ebooks front—the launch of The Palace Project, a new, library-centered ebooks platform made possible by an investment from Knight Foundation. To find out more about The Palace Project’s plans to transform the way libraries deliver e-content, visit the website.
Many thanks to Knight Foundation and to Jill Bourne of the San Jose Public Library; Juliet Fink-Yates, Digital Inclusion Fellow for the City of Philadelphia; Jennie Stapp, Montana State Librarian; Felton Thomas Jr. of the Cleveland Public Library; Diane Kaplan of the Rasmuson Foundation; Crosby Kemper of IMLS; Greg Lucas, California State Librarian; Tracie D. Hall, ALA executive director; John Palfrey, Migell Acosta, Jennifer Lautzenheiser and everyone who attended the event.
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