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Libraries a Key to Smart Cities? CTG UAlbany Report Explains How

Information Science Ph.D. students Shannon Mersand (lead author), right, and Xiaoyi Zhao (co-author) worked with colleagues at CTG UAlbany on the report. (Photo by Ben Meyers)

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 1, 2018) -- The local library is more than just books according to a new report from the research institute CTG UAlbany.

So much more.

According to the CTG UAlbany report, The Role of Public Libraries in Engaging Citizens in Smart, Inclusive and Connected Communities, libraries around the nation are supporting their citizens in innovative ways. Through workshops about robots and 3D printers, social media, open buildings, and new collections of plant and flower seeds, power tools, board games, American Girl Dolls, thermal cameras, LED Bulbs, and gardening equipment to the public, libraries are a space for the community to come together to learn, communicate, and be engaged participants in their own communities.

“As a very important element of the digital, knowledge and creative infrastructures of smart communities, public libraries may further play a critical role in involving the community and in addressing its needs, issues and interests,” researchers said in the report.

“They could offer a new generation of library services that could be integrated with the city infrastructure and that could further extend public libraries’ roles as community anchors and as information literacy hubs in smart communities,” researchers said.

University at Albany Information Science Ph.D. student and former CTG UAlbany Graduate Assistant Shannon Mersand is the lead author of the report. Co-authors include: CTG UAlbany Associate Research Director Mila Gascó Hernández, Information Science Ph.D. student Xiaoyi Zhao, CTG UAlbany Research Director J. Ramon Gil-Garcia, Managing Director G. Brian Burke, and Program Associate Megan Sutherland.

Miguel Figueroa – Director of the Center for the Future of Libraries at the American Library Association – is also a co-author.

Researchers studied 32 different libraries across the United States, from the New York Public Library in Midtown Manhattan to Ignacio Community Library in the southwest corner of Colorado (population just under 5,800).

The researchers focused on identifying best practices at each library through the lenses of: infrastructure, technology, programs and services, citizen engagement, communications, and partnerships. The team then also identified “Integrative Best Practices,” that touch many or all of those areas.

The report is part of a multi-year, multi-phase project supported by a grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (No. LG-96-17-0144-17).

The team has created a Facebook Group for librarians to interact and share ideas about best practices. In the next phase of the project, researchers plan to conduct interviews with local governments, public libraries, and other key stakeholder groups in Chicago, Chattanooga, Saratoga Springs and Ignacio to get case study details about how those particular libraries are contributing to making their community's smarter.

“Taking all the identified innovations together, there seems to be a path for public libraries to keep evolving and become essential for a great variety of smart efforts. In fact, moving from providing technology to teaching citizens how to use it helps create a technology literate community, which could be the basis of new programs and services for all citizens and encourage a sense of community,” the team said in the report.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.