NILPPA: A research project by the American Library Association

The National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment
aims to develop a research agenda to understand the impacts
of library public programs nationwide.





A letter from ALA’s Public Programs Office


The impetus behind this white paper and related project, with its ambitious scope of developing a framework to assess the impact of library public programs, came from the hundreds of librarians that the American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office (PPO) works with on a yearly basis. In many ways, this report reflects the journey that ALA PPO has taken, hand-in-hand, over more than two decades, with programming librarians—library professionals who create programs that respond to the needs of their community.
ALA PPO began in response to demand for programming models, resources, and fundraising skills to aid librarians in developing cultural programming, which encompasses the arts, sciences, and humanities. We responded to their call by working with library practitioners across the field and collaborating with a multitude of partners including museums, federal agencies, foundations, and other nonprofit organizations to support the work of school, public, academic, and special libraries as centers of community and culture.


To embrace, bolster, and nurture their libraries’ position as community anchor, librarians sought training, funding, and content. They wanted to learn how to write grants. They wanted access to resources such as museum-quality exhibition content, nationally distributed film series, and thematic reading lists and discussion programs. They wanted to recruit scholars, experts, and others to facilitate compelling arts, humanities, and issues-based discussions for their communities. More and more they stepped into the role of facilitator and convener and expanded the boundaries of cultural programming to reflect their publics’ aspirations for community health and wellbeing. They wanted to learn from each other and share their stories of success and challenges.
Over the past 24 years, we have witnessed this tremendous growth in the breadth, variety, and number of programs that libraries of all types present, as well as changes in the way library professionals talk about their roles as producers, creators, conveners, and content curators. In recent years the term “programming librarian” has come into use in public libraries as a professional designation and specialty; in academic libraries, the terms “outreach librarian,” “community engagement librarian,” and “civic engagement librarian” have emerged.


While the field rushes forward and programming swells and grows, the need for research into the implications, impact, and nature of library public programs has become urgent. As you will see in this white paper, questions such as “How can I explain the value of our programs?” and “How can we prove that our programs are making a difference?” are front of mind with library professionals charged with proving their impact to municipal officials, boards of regents, school boards, and other governing bodies, as well as, often, their own administration. The pressing need is for data, deeper study, and the ability to speak to the impact of library public programming.

The ALA Public Programs Office is pursuing this research because we believe that the effectiveness of library programming can be measured in meaningful qualitative and quantitative ways that illustrate deep impact, enhance institutional strength, and address

and reflect community needs. We believe that the labor-intensive work of programming involves multiple professional competencies that should be mapped and recognized and that the work of impact measurement will be helped by tools developed through this research. This white paper is the work of a team of 25 advisors and researchers, and by sharing it we hope to inspire a robust discussion of our findings, and that members of the library field will respond with feedback, observations, and related research. Please help us to advance this discussion.

Mary Davis Fournier
Deputy Director
ALA Public Programs Office
December 2014



View White Paper Online Download White Paper as PDF