Influential Nonprofit, Libraries for the Future (LFF), Closes After 17 Years

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Citing budget pressure, the nonprofit organization, Libraries for the Future (LFF), has announced that the current economic climate has made it impossible to continue. The recent news is, indeed, a tremendous loss to library advocates everywhere.

Influential in its advocacy efforts for libraries nationwide, LFF oversaw the birth of programs that have run in close to 400 libraries in 33 states; the good news: most will continue to run. Middle Country Public Library (NY), for example, will continue to oversee Family Place Libraries, a network of children’s librarians “who believe that literacy begins at birth, and that libraries can help build healthy communities by nourishing healthy families.”

Other programs include Lifelong Access Libraries, which focuses on active older adults, and the Wellness Information Zone, which aims to support free, reliable consumer health information. LFF also trained many librarians to achieve EqualAccess Libraries, a program that addressed “this ever-changing digital age.”

Begun as an advocacy organization in 1992, LFF produced three important publications aimed to help advocates make the case for libraries including, Long Overdue, a national public opinion study, Worth Their Weight: An Assessment of the Evolving Field of Library Valuation, and Act for Libraries, a library advocacy web site.

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Congressional Inclusion of Libraries in Recovery Package?

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Jeffrey Scherer, board chair of Libraries for the Future in New York and Minneapolis architect (MS&R) who worked on the Alvar Branch renovation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, has sent a letter to the New York Times urging that libraries not be left behind in the federal stimulus package.

He writes, “The proposed language of the $825 Billion Recovery Plan before the House of Representatives today does not include money for our libraries. While it includes roads and bridges to drive across our communities, it must include our intellectual bridges, the public library.”

The American Library Association (ALA) responded that Scherer, “though good-intentioned, has misunderstood and misrepresented the bill,” noting that libraries are qualifying institutions “for the K-12 Repair and Modernization funding and the Higher Education Repair and Modernization funding.” (That does still seem to leave out public libraries, however.)

To this, Scherer told the ALA Washington Office that his reading still indicates “that essentially public libraries are getting shorted in this bill,” from which “the 15,000+ public libraries in our society basically get nothing.” He went on to say, “That does not in any way suggest that the higher education, rural (native American) and school libraries do not deserve all that they can get. I applaud you for pointing this out. However, when a huge percentage of libraries are excluded, the notion that some libraries are included is just not enough.”

Lifelong Access Libraries

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The third annual Lifelong Access Libraries Institute in Chapel Hill, NC will be held July 27th-30th and I will be attending as LFF Staff!

The 2008 Lifelong Access Libraries Institute, an initiative of Libraries for the Future is aimed at causing fundamental change in how public libraries define, create, and deliver their services to active older adults, a segment of the population that is growing rapidly across the nation. The 2008 Institute will focus primarily on three areas:

* Concepts and research underlying new approaches to working with midlife and older adults and the opportunities for lifelong learning and civic engagement;

* Promising practices in library services, including the Lifelong Access framework for new older adult services and Stories from the Field from past Fellows; and

* Leadership and skills in community librarianship.

Lifelong Access Libraries is a multi-year, national initiative that aims at transforming library services for older adults with opportunities for active learning, creative exploration, and meaningful civic engagement. Lifelong Access is based on an understanding of older adults as resources for their communities and offers an alternative to the predominant deficit-based model of aging. The initiative is a project of Libraries for the Future (formerly known as Americans for Libraries Council), in collaboration with the Institute on Aging and the School of Information Science at North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is made possible by a generous grant from Atlantic Philanthropies. The 3 day Institute will be held at UNC’s Wilson Library and Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

POST SCRIPT: Please take advantage of checking out curriculum materials from the 2008 Institute posted on the Lifelong Access Libraries website!

Stuck on Libraries

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My new-found favorite from the EqualAccess Showcase, a venue for participants to share their health, lifelong, or youth programming initiatives:

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The Ephrata Public Library’s Teen Advisory Board, with support from Penny Talbert, EqualAccess* Program participant, found a unique way to advocate for a ballot referendum to fund local libraries. To show their loyalty to the library and woo voters, 12 members of the Teen Advisory Board created a live art exhibit by attaching themselves to library computers and walls using duct tape.

*EqualAccess Libraries is a professional development program that trains public librarians in how to address their community’s most pressing needs through assessment and information gathering, development of strategic partnerships with local organizations, and the creation of innovative work plans that reflect their community’s unique character. The Access Programs provide flexible approaches to creating programs and services for health consumers, Baby Boomers and older adults, and youth.

EqualAccess was developed by Libraries for the Future.

Library Fitness

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Albeit several years old, the Fit For Life initiative serves as an amazing example of the potential of library services (specifically public library services) in partnership with local organizations, agencies and schools. In 2004, MetLife Foundation awarded a grant to to pilot Get Real, Get Fit!, a program designed to provide library systems with training, resources and support to promote health literacy and wellness in their communities, with a specific focus on populations in urban areas with limited access to reliable health information. LFF selected 40 libraries in 15 states to bring together teens and their parents for discussions and activities focused on fitness and nutrition and to help develop these libraries as centers for health information.

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Community Health Connections: Emerging Models of Health Information Services in Public Libraries, an LFF publication, can be downloaded here.