Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries

Great news! The final report on the Colorado Dialogue on Public Libraries is out!

This dialogue was convened by the Aspen Institute and built on the work that Governor Hickenlooper’s office did in 2016, building an in-depth project to examine what it takes to create more resilient communities, whether urban, suburban or rural. This report highlights the crucial role that libraries play in fostering community resilience, and ways in which that role can be strengthened. Download the full report here, or read on for more details.

The Colorado Dialogue highlighted the building blocks of community resilience and the strengths of libraries to enhance those building blocks. These included economic diversity, housing challenges, behavioral health, educational achievement, access to information and services, collaboration, citizenship, leadership development and funding. The discussion also laid out important principles of local control, empowerment, equity and engagement, and explored meaningful actions to advance these goals throughout the state.

In conversation with Governor John Hickenlooper, dialogue participants acknowledged that libraries are underrepresented on statewide commissions and task forces. Also, in Colorado, libraries and other community services and infrastructure are locally funded, leaving gaps in the degree to which libraries can function to improve the lives of community residents. The Dialogue uncovered several promising ideas to connect libraries to statewide initiatives and programs, some of which, in turn, surfaced opportunities that require new funding streams and models to support the state’s libraries.

These opportunities include:

  • Participation in new initiatives for youth empowerment, workforce readiness and libraries serving as civic hubs;
  • Recommending the Governor appoint a blue ribbon panel or commission to address inequities in library resources, specifically how libraries can fund gaps to serve as community catalysts; this would aim to strengthen libraries as well as Main Street;
  • Funding a forum or symposium for continuing to convene on strategies to increase statewide resiliency.

The Colorado Dialogue identified 10 opportunities for strengthening library-community partnerships and overall community resilience, and ways in which libraries and communities can work more effectively together. (Specific recommendations, suggestions for partnerships, and highlights of existing successful models are included in the full report.)

The opportunities include the following:

  1. Build into the resiliency of communities the knowledge that people change career paths all the time.
  2. Look at education and lifelong learning as one interrelated ecosystem.
  3. Adopt whole approaches to children and families for closing achievement and other gaps.
  4. Develop partnerships for collective impact.
  5. Connect libraries with the creative community.
  6. Build networks with the private sector.
  7. Create a new office to facilitate public-private and public-public partnerships (“P3 czar”).
  8. Reclaim the salon culture in libraries.
  9. Attract, inspire and enable diverse talent in the library and the community.
  10. Change the culture and policies that inhibit innovation.


Finally, the Colorado Dialogue proposed four projects for participants to undertake, largely led by the State Library, as a mean to create a path forward for continuing dialogue and action.

  • Project 1: Library in a Box responds to the need for modeling innovative and effective library services and communicating these successes to other libraries, the community and the media.
  • Project 2: Youth Voices addresses the challenges of getting youth into libraries to access the services available to them, giving youth a strong voice in the community and showing the impact of the library’s work to the community.
  • Project 3: Workforce Training Modules Pilot uses the inherent connectivity of libraries to create a living database of professional training modules that would be accessible to all Colorado libraries.
  • Project 4: Civic Umbrella uses the library’s reputation for being neutral and its capability as a convener and facilitator to foster the exchange of ideas, relationship building and civic literacy in ways that develop trust among community members. Such trust is needed for resiliency in times of crisis.