The Role of Public Libraries in Engaging Citizens in Smart, Inclusive and Connected Communities

Shannon Mersand, Mila Gasco-Hernandez, Xiaoyi Zhao, J. Ramon Gil-Garcia, G. Brian Burke, Megan Sutherland, Miguel Figueroa
Oct. 31, 2018


Recently there has been an upswing in the application of technological innovations and smart strategies in communities in an attempt to improve government services and overall quality of life for citizens.

Many of these strategies focus on utilizing data and technology to save tax dollars, improve decision making by governments, as well as improve existing services while also creating new services previously unachievable.

Such smart strategies have become a national priority, which has resulted in an increase of federal funding allocated to encourage civic leaders, data scientists, and technologists to work together in research partnerships to make sense of the growing data revolution spurned by low-cost sensors and increased computing power, in an attempt to generate new solutions that will benefit society.

Though community partnerships have been acknowledged, smart community initiatives are often led by governments and industry, with less focus on the needs and demands of communities and citizens, which would allow for more inclusive and all-encompassing services and solutions so that all can benefit from the utilization of smart technologies and services.

Based on our research and work with governments in this area, it is also clear that community resources, such as public libraries, are often left out of the dialog surrounding smart community initiatives.

As a very important element of the digital, knowledge and creative infrastructures of smart communities, public libraries could play a critical role in involving the community and in addressing its needs, issues and interests in the development of smart communities.

Indeed, public libraries have been identified in the planning literature as important partners in community development for decades.

Since 2009, public libraries in the United States have been increasingly identified as anchor institutions that have adopted the role of providing access to broadband technology for all citizens.

In addition to providing broadband access, libraries have cemented their roles as technology hubs as they provide public access computers, free Wi-Fi, e-books, electronic databases, and other digital resources.

Their increased presence on social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter helps them connect with the community while staying abreast of other technological innovations.

Public libraries serve as a central element in the new digital economy, acting as knowledge and creative centers in their communities, and could further advance their roles by engaging citizens in smart community initiatives by helping shed light on the needs, interests and issues of the citizens they serve.

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