Introduction to the Public Libraries, Communities, and Technology Project

For more than 40 years the Council on Library Resources has identified library issues and developed new approaches to library operations. As a non-profit, operating foundation, the Council serves as a catalyst for programs in library leadership development, as well as the economics of information and the development of the digital library. Recently, the Council has been interested in addressing the challenges public libraries face in an era of information revolution and the implications of these challenges for the education of the library profession. At the same time, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has taken a keen interest in the roles public libraries are playing in their communities and how public library leadership is being developed for the future. Through its Human Resources for Information Systems Management (HRISM) program, the Kellogg Foundation is developing the leaders who can build and manage the information support systems needed by society and is assisting current library leaders in transforming their institutions in response to changing societal needs. A grant to the Council on Library Resources by the Kellogg Foundation established a program to take a closer look at public libraries and determine the most useful avenues for developing leaders, building networks within the library and information science communities, and strengthening the dialogue among the people who use and support public libraries.

Within its Kellogg program, the Council is gathering information on public libraries that have developed particularly innovative services, that use emerging technologies to serve the local community, or that have been influential in addressing public policy for information services in their communities. The Council will use this information to produce publications intended to encourage and guide library directors, and to inform community leaders about the dynamic roles that public libraries and information technology can play within communities. In the longer term, the Council will use the information gathered about public libraries to guide the development of programs that will enhance library leadership.

Working with an Advisory Committee of public library directors, the Council’s staff decided that the best way to learn was through direct communication with library leaders and staff. Council President Deanna Marcum sent a letter to more than 3,000 public libraries with acquisition budgets of over $10,000 to identify innovative uses of technology, especially those applications of technology used to meet community information needs. This June 2, 1995, letter asked library directors to write a paragraph summarizing local programs. A copy of the letter follows this introduction.

The Council received 293 letters in response from public libraries in 46 states (all but Rhode Island, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Nevada). Responses came from small libraries and large libraries, state libraries and regional library networks. Rural, urban, and suburban libraries are all represented. A wide variety of community programs and means to carry them out are described. The texts of the letters are available on a World Wide Web site at the University of Michigan School of Information (http://www.si.umich.edu/CLR).

From among these letters, the Council’s Kellogg Program Advisory Committee selected 12 sites for further study and site visits. In the selection process, the Advisory Committee looked for the following: models for emulation, examples of both large and small libraries, projects that have been implemented, programs with community impact, technologically sophisticated programs, successful or significant investments that should be highlighted, programs that encourage diversity, collaboration among libraries and community organizations, and projects that are coordinated and integrated within the overall library program.

Council staff members visited the 12 libraries to gather information about library technology programs and their impact on the community. From the visits and information supplied by the libraries, Council staff have written the case studies that follow and an essay that documents commonalities among programs, challenges, and lessons learned. Through the case studies, the analysis, and subsequent publications derived from this information, the Council hopes to provide inspiration and direction to library directors and to call attention to public libraries that are serving their communities effectively.

The case studies tell only a partial story of what is taking place in public libraries. The sample is limited and by no means scientific. These 12 libraries represent a very small fraction of the thousands of public libraries in the United States that are using information technology in innovative ways. These 12 also are among the libraries that are now predicting their communities’ future information needs and planning how they might respond effectively. By eschewing a scientific sampling, the Advisory Committee paid no particular attention to the geographic distribution of sites across the country or to the particular size of libraries, even though the selected libraries represent an interesting mixture of urban and rural, large and small, city and town, individual libraries and systems.

The case studies have been prepared by the Council’s staff, and in each instance a draft narrative was sent to the library under consideration for review and comment. The opinions expressed in the case studies are those of the Council on Library Resources alone. More detailed information about the services and systems of these 12 libraries may be obtained directly from the individual library or, in most cases, from the library’s World Wide Web site. Comments or questions about this project should be directed to The Council on Library Resources, at the address noted on the inside front cover.


The Council on Library Resources is a non-profit operating foundation established in 1956 to look toward the future on behalf of libraries, address problems experienced by libraries in the aggregate, and identify innovative solutions. The Council promotes research, organizes conferences, issues publications, and manages collaborative projects to bring about significant changes in its areas of interest. It is supported by grants from other foundations, and it has recently affiliated with the Commission on Preservation and Access, an allied organization working to ensure the preservation of the published and documentary record in all formats. The Council’s current programs are in three areas important to the future of libraries: developing leadership for managing new information technologies, analyzing the economics of information services, and assisting the transition from the traditional to the digital library.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930 to “help people to help themselves.” As a private grantmaking organization, it provides seed money to organizations and institutions that have identified problems and designed constructive action programs aimed at solutions. Most Foundation grants are awarded in the areas of youth, leadership, philanthropy and volunteerism, community-based health services, higher education, foods systems, rural development, groundwater resources in the Great Lakes area, and economic development in Michigan. Programming priorities concentrate grants in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.