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Enabling Smart, Inclusive, and Connected Communities: The Role of Public Libraries

Enabling Smart, Inclusive, and Connected Communities: The Role of Public Libraries
Project Summary

Smart strategies, particularly with use of technological innovations, have emerged in many communities as a way to improve government services, but also overall quality of life for citizens. The majority of these strategies focus on how technology and data can save hard earned taxpayer money, vastly improve government decision making and current services, and enable new types of services only dreamed of before. Such smart strategies have become a national priority with increased federal funding encouraging a community of data scientists, technologists, and civic leaders to harness the growing data revolution, low-cost sensors, and research partnerships to unlock new solutions that can benefit society. While acknowledging this broader community partnership, more often than not, these initiatives are industry- and government-driven with much less focus on identifying community demands that are all-inclusive and address that community’s ability to benefit from and utilize smart city technologies and services. Moreover, from our research and work with governments in this area, it is evident that community focused groups such as public libraries have been largely left out of the ongoing dialogue about smart cities. As a very important element of the digital, knowledge and creative infrastructures of smart cities, public libraries could further play a critical role in involving the community and in addressing its needs, issues and interests.

This proposed project submitted by CTG in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA)’s Center for the Future of Libraries, aims at better understanding how public libraries can advance their role as community anchors in smart city initiatives by contributing to the community’s understanding of and participation in such initiatives. The project addresses two specific research questions:
  1. To what extent do public libraries, building on their expertise, knowledge, and background, contribute to communities’ understanding of and participation in smart city initiatives?
  2. What are the existing and potential benefits, costs, risks, challenges, and unintended consequences for public libraries increasing their involvement in their communities’ smart city initiatives?
To address these two research questions, this project will undergo the following activities over the course of the next three years:
  • Literature and Current Practices Review
  • Case Studies
  • National Survey
  • Report and Toolkit Development
  • Dissemination of Results and Resources
The intended outcomes for public libraries, local governments, and researchers include: 1) increasing and sustaining relationships and collaborations between libraries and other organizations, such as city governments and community organizations, 2) designing and developing two new and replicable resources, the Opportunity Agenda and Roadmap Report and the Smart Libraries Toolbox, to guide libraries willing to advance their role as community anchors and/or community catalysts in smart cities and to provide them with numerous resources and ideas for new programs and services contextualized to community issues/interests, and 3) enhancing the relationships between researchers and practitioners by communicating research findings in different events and ways that will lead to demonstrable improvements in library services.

This research will be supported by the expertise of an Advisory Board which will provide strategic advice for multiple stages and activities of this project.