I was invited to spend two days in Washington DC last week to learn about the issues facing libraries in the US and around the world.

It will be no great surprise that those issues are the same ones facing our local libraries. Near the top of the list is a need for libraries – and library leaders – to get better at telling their own stories. In an age of digital-everything, it’s more important than ever that libraries remind their communities why they exist and why they’re important.

[If you’d like to learn more about why Berks County’s libraries are important, check out page 12 of the report issued by our Library Task Force last year.]

To help libraries tell their stories, the American Library Association is offering a free advocacy training course called Turning the Page 2.0. It looks like a good way for librarians and their board members to tackle the challenge of tooting their own horns in a way that attracts greater community support.

Another resource was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (who hosted the meetings I attended with help from the National Endowment for the Humanities). They made a grant to create a free public awareness campaign called Geek the Library that libraries can use in their communities.

Finally, facts help. These two links provide data that libraries can use to make their cases about the ways free internet access helps communities:

My own take on libraries is this: As the country rethinks education for the 21st century and works to ensure the stepping stones to the American dream are available to everyone, libraries play a critical role. In our schools, librarians are gatekeepers and guides to primary and secondary sources for research that go way beyond a cursory Google search. In our communities, libraries level the playing field by providing access to information and resources that many people simply cannot afford to access in any other way. Libraries are one of the last great lifelines that provide people with a way to better themselves and, ultimately, our society.

Heidi Williamson, Vice President for Grantmaking and Communication