CTG UAlbany Launches Toolbox to Support Libraries in Developing Smart Cities

Two children sit at a table with computers and 3D printers are helped by a young man indoors, with a sign MakerSpace on the wall.

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 27, 2022) – Since the start of the digital era, the role of public libraries has evolved from being mainly repositories of knowledge sources and items typically dispensed through physical shelves to becoming anchor institutions with the unique ability to understand and support community needs, including those related to smart city and community initiatives.

Given their unique status within their communities as both trusted spaces as well as information and technological hubs, public libraries have the capability to go beyond the role of providing access to computers and to the Internet.

During the past four years, a research team by the University at Albany’s Center for Technology and Government (CTG UAlbany) has examined how public libraries have the potential to contribute to smart cities and communities by developing smart citizens, enabling citizen participation and providing an innovation environment.

The results of this effort has led to the launch of CTG UAlbany’s Public Libraries in Smart Cities and Communities Toolbox.

“The toolbox is a set of resources for public libraries that want to strengthen their role in developing a smart city or community,” said Mila Gasco-Hernandez, Research Director of CTG UAlbany and leader of the project. “It provides guidance to public libraries in terms of how they can serve as community anchors in smart city initiatives by contributing to the community’s understanding of and participation in such efforts.”

The core of the toolbox is structured into three sections:

Each of these sections addresses how the topic areas can be utilized to make a greater contribution to the development of a smart city/community. The sections also provide additional resources to further explore new programs and services contextualized to community issues and interests, changes in organizational processes, and uses of marketing tools.

Smart city innovations have often been industry- or government-driven. Gasco-Hernandez and her team often found that, although these innovations might have focused on addressing citizens and communities’ needs, they have largely left public libraries out of the ongoing dialogue about smart cities.

“Public libraries are digital, knowledge and creative infrastructure for smart cities. Public libraries can play a critical role in involving the community and addressing its needs,” continued Gasco-Hernandez.

This is why CTG UAlbany set about designing and developing new and replicable resources to guide public libraries willing to advance their role as community anchors, as well as provide them with numerous ideas for new programs and services contextualized to community issues/interests.

The Toolbox includes a Resources section, which features all of the products that CTG UAlbany has created to help raise awareness about the concept of smart cities and communities as well as to support public libraries’ contribution to developing smart cities and communities, along with a virtual space for public libraries to connect and interact.

Further information can be found through the Getting Started section, which provides a roadmap to learn more about the Public Libraries in Smart Cities and Communities Toolbox.

The four-year collaboration, “Enabling Smart, Inclusive, and Connected Communities: The Role of Public Libraries,” is one of CTG UAlbany’s core research projects, conducted in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA)’s Center for the Future of Libraries.