The future of libraries in the US & around the world

TASCHA’s work with public libraries is well-known throughout most of the world, ranging from the Public Access Landscape Study, which was the first attempt to identify and describe public libraries and other internet public access centers and their services in 25 countries, to the Global Impact Study, which looked at the effect of libraries and other public access centers and their services on the users and non-users in eight countries. But with the selection of TASCHA as one of the three Legacy Partners by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Program, along with the United States Public Library Association (PLA) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), more work by TASCHA in the United States will be seen in the coming years.

TASCHA is no stranger to the US public library landscape, having worked closely with the University of Washington’s US Impact Study team to develop the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)-funded Digital Inclusion Framework, but the opportunity to work with PLA and other US library support organizations in the United States will broaden that involvement, and bring some of the experience and ideas that TASCHA has gained in its international work closer to home.

One exciting opportunity is closely tied to the recent creation of a new faculty position in the University of Washington Information School, with the hiring this spring of Susan Hildreth as the first Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the school. Susan is the former director of IMLS, after leading the California State Library and the Seattle Public Library, among many other prominent positions in the library field. She will join the TASCHA advisory board as part of her position, and provide guidance and insights into new projects involving US public libraries, as well as leading her own work with funding provided through the faculty position. TASCHA is looking forward to working closely with her as new initiatives are launched in the US, and will rely on her experience and expertise in shaping those initiatives to focus on the most pressing needs in the field from a leadership and practitioner’s perspective.

Susan’s hiring is part of a larger strategic initiative in the Information School focused on the Future of Libraries, which will bring the resources and talents of the faculty and staff in the school to bear on issues pertinent to the library field, through work led by TASCHA and other researchers. The prospect of bringing these rich and varied resources to bear on examining the challenges and opportunities facing the library field in the United States in the coming years is a welcome addition to the broader work with libraries and other agents of social change that TASCHA has always focused on.

Some examples of the type of work that TASCHA has been engaged in with libraries outside the US that can help inform new approaches and ideas for US libraries include the development of a mobile information literacy curriculum for libraries in Myanmar, to assist in better use of the rapidly evolving mobile internet growing there; the investigation of MOOCs as a way to enable life-long learning in three countries; and a new project with IFLA on aligning library performance and outcome metrics with broader international developmental metrics under the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to influence policy and funding efforts in many nations. These and many other projects related to libraries and access to information, from hands on work with patrons to policy level engagement with support and funding organizations, match current needs in the US library field, and will enrich the discussion and opportunities across the board for libraries everywhere.

The partnerships, alliances, and research that TASCHA has built over the years will be invaluable assets in future work with libraries across the world, and by working in concert with PLA and other support organizations in the country, will ensure that activities are meaningful and worthwhile to all those who have dedicated their lives to making public libraries assets to the communities and individuals throughout the United States.