Public Library Research at TASCHA


Public libraries form a critical foundation of the world’s social infrastructure. With over 400,000 worldwide, they provide spaces and services that aim to uplift individuals and communities. The core goals and values of libraries — free access to knowledge, thought, culture, and information, an informed citizenry, information integrity, and democratic rights, among others — are as critical to society as ever. 

The TASCHA Public Library Initiative aims to generate new ideas for advancing the transformation of public libraries as centers of learning, creativity, and community development. 

The Initiative seeks to spark discoveries by investing in new research directions, provide opportunities for students to gain and apply knowledge in the field, and engage practitioners from inside and outside libraries in the co-creation of new solutions.

We are grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for providing core funding for this initiative.


Open Data

Public libraries invest tremendous effort understanding their communities to develop programs and services responsive to local needs. The growing supply of open data and analytical tools present libraries with new opportunities to learn about their communities at more granular levels, and patrons with additional resources to explore issues for both personal exploration and community development. A common challenge is capacity. Library staff  face numerous challenges in realizing open data’s potential, from data curation and management to utilizing tools and gaining skills. How can libraries leverage open data for planning and decision-making? How can libraries curate collections of open data of value to local communities and build the necessary infrastructure and preservation environments to sustain open data collections?

Libraries in the Global South

Some 70% of the world’s public libraries are in the “Global South,” generally referring to countries with greater socio-economic and political barriers in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Public libraries in these communities face a range of similar challenges, while also offering possibilities for supporting individual and community growth. TASCHA’s research in these regions asks: How can libraries better position themselves as partners in national development plans? How can they meet the range of unique challenges in their communities? How can we understand their current and potential roles outside of Western notions of “development?”


Misinformation has emerged as a foundational threat to society. It also represents a challenge to the core goals of librarianship — from ensuring the integrity of information to promoting an informed citizenry. At the same time, libraries have unique assets: high levels of trust, information professionals, and community presence. What types of new programs and services are needed to address the complexities of misinformation? How can information literacy theory and practice be updated to account for the ways in which misinformation flows and targets individuals? How can libraries combat misinformation narratives at local levels? TASCHA’s misinformation research is undertaken in partnership with the Center for an Informed Public.

Civic Engagement

The civic health of the world is in peril. In the U.S. and many other countries trust in institutions is declining, political and ideological polarization is increasing, social cohesion is eroding, and information echo chambers are expanding. While public libraries have a long history of supporting civic engagement, the forces of societal and technological change have created new challenges. How can libraries integrate their physical and digital assets to provide new opportunities for civic engagement? How can libraries design programs that support the interests and aspirations of youth?

Digital Equity

Public libraries have a strong role in advancing digital equity in their communities. What began as the provision of computers and internet access for public use has evolved into a wider range of initiatives. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of digital equity into stark relief, revealing vast disparities in digital access and skills in resource poor and rich countries alike. How can libraries build on the provision of public internet access to achieve more ambitious equity goals? How can libraries keep pace with constantly evolving technologies when providing digital skills training?

Inclusive Data

As data increasingly becomes key to driving policy design, programs, and decision-making, many communities continue to be marginalized and/or underrepresented in datasets. As the COVID pandemic has further revealed, data on race, ethnicity, gender, and other intersectional factors is not widely available rendering many programs and actions insufficient to equitably address the realities of many communities. Inclusive data processes are central to building more equitable responses to address systemic barriers impacting diverse communities. Libraries can be important catalysts in these efforts. How can public libraries engage and support underserved communities in creating more inclusive data about the effects of COVID-19? How can inclusive data practices lead to better solutions for social problems? How can public libraries incorporate inclusive data practices in its open data, citizen science and data literacy programs?

Public library programming in the pandemic: returning to normal or shaping a new normal (special topic)

The COVID-19 pandemic affected public libraries across the U.S. How did libraries respond? What changes to programming were successful? Through longitudinal interviews with 20 public libraries across Washington State and analysis of public library survey data, this project seeks to provide insights on the ways in which public libraries can offer programs in a post-pandemic era.

TASCHA Public Libraries Initiative