Public Libraries

About

Public libraries form a critical foundation of the world’s social infrastructure. With over 400,000 worldwide, they provide spaces and services that welcome all members of society, foster personal exploration and growth, and uplift communities. To accomplish this, libraries need to continually innovate to proactively respond to changing societal dynamics. 

TASCHA has conducted research on public libraries since 2007. In 2017 the Gates Foundation provided us with a “legacy” grant to support continued research that would carry forward the Foundation’s vision as it sunsetted the Global Libraries program. The aim of the grant is to help shape the future of the field by advancing scholarship and practice. As such we invest in applied research projects featuring participatory methods with public library practitioners, and prioritize research that we believe can lead to transformative changes in the public library sector. One hallmark of our work is engaging expertise from outside the library community, and embedding libraries within broader societal issues. Our work is anchored in TASCHA’s historical focus on digital technologies, marginalized groups, and diverse national and global contexts. 

TASCHA and Information School faculty and researchers determine research directions. Investments are made in projects with co-funding, proofs of concept that hold promise for future grant applications, and in translational activities that turn research discoveries into practical applications such as new library programs and services. 

The TASCHA library program also supports student education and research opportunities. The TASCHA PhD library fellowship funds one to two incoming PhD students, and all research projects involve students through research assistantships or Directed Research Group classes. 

With enormous gratitude to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its support.

 

Current areas of interest:

Open Data

Public libraries invest tremendous effort understanding their communities in order to develop and tailor programs and services to local needs. The growing supply of open data and analytical tools present libraries with new opportunities to support their communities. For libraries, open data can uncover community needs at more granular levels and depict trends, offering potentially superior resources for developing programs and services. For library patrons, open data can be a powerful resource for exploring issues of personal to global significance. However, libraries face numerous challenges in realizing open data’s potential, from data curation and management to tools and 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?

Development

Development is concerned with improving economic, social, and political conditions worldwide. Traditionally focused on “developing” countries, the latest global consensus represented as the Sustainable Development Goals expands development’s scope to include issues of clean water and energy, gender equality, reduced inequalities, and sustainable cities and communities in all countries of the world. Public libraries can play a strong role in national development plans, providing the information, connectivity, expertise and other critical resources needed to uplift communities. How can libraries position themselves as partners in development? How can they leverage their human, technological, and physical infrastructure to support community and national priorities? 

Misinformation 

Misinformation has emerged as a foundational threat to democratic society, undermining civic discourse, and tearing at the social fabric. It also represents a frontal challenge to the library profession as one of the core values of the profession is to provide the general public with equitable access to information and promote an informed citizenry. How can libraries address misinformation through programming and services? How can information literacy theory and practice be updated to account for the ways in which misinformation flows and targets individuals? How can libraries use their community presence to 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. trust in institutions is down, ideological polarization is up, social cohesion is down, engagement in mainstream and social media echo chambers is up, among other signs. At the same time, digital technologies have enabled new forms of civic participation as reflected in BlackLivesMatter, climate change movements, and a myriad of other local, national, and global causes. Youth are leading the way in many cases, drawing on their adept use of social media and other digital tools. Public libraries have long

fulfilled a vital need for communal spaces where people can engage and exchange ideas, and served as a civic commons where people can work together for the public good. How can public libraries enhance their role in fostering civic engagement? How can libraries integrate their physical and digital spaces to provide new opportunities for engagement? How can libraries design programs that support the interests and aspirations of youth?

Literacies

Rapid changes in information technology have opened new ways to learn, work and connect with others. However, people need to constantly learn an evolving set of competencies and skills to pursue these opportunities. Public libraries play an important role, helping people

navigate information, use digital technologies, access and manipulate data, and do so safely and securely. How can libraries keep pace with constantly evolving technologies? What pedagogical approaches can enhance learning? How do needs vary across geographical and cultural contexts? 

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, critical 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 incorporate inclusive data practices in its open data, citizen science and digital and data literacy programs? How can libraries facilitate the creation, not just the consumption, of more representative data?  How can inclusive data practices lead to better solutions for social problems?

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 is evolving 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 move beyond public internet access to achieve more ambitious equity goals? What role can libraries play in efforts such as community networks and mutual aid? 

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.

Projects

Featured Outputs

People & Organizations

  • Research Team