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Dreaming Big and Building Community

by Susan Benton, ULC President & CEO

“We believe that this library is not a building. We believe that this library is not a culmination of a dream, this library is the springboard for dreams. We believe that dreams have to be big in order to build a community … this place is going to help all of us dream big and build big and build our community together. Because this is not a building my friends, this is our manifesto. This is what we believe.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Calgary, Canada

Hearing those inspiring words I, along with thousands of Calgarians, cheered the opening of the city’s new Central Library — a space that embodies dreaming big and building community.

And that is what each of you do every day — create spaces that enable the people in your community to dream and to build. Your work and your commitment to helping individuals create positive change in their lives is bold and noble. It is also daunting, and not for the faint of heart.

When we are at our best, ULC provides the safe harbor to support one another in our bold quests and to work together as a think and action tank, creating the tools and techniques that enable us to do our best and to measure our performance.

For more than 40 years, ULC members have been active in shifting field-wide conversations and work practices. Over the last several years, you have moved into an active education role, squarely taking on the huge education gaps existing in our urban centers. Intentional summer learning programs now exist alongside summer reading to address the summer slide while providing safe, fun spaces for kids. You have formed partnerships with your schools to get a library card for every student and 66 percent of you report that teacher and student use of library resources has increased.

ULC libraries act with integrity and accountability. One hundred forty ULC members have signed our Race and Social Equity Statement, articulating their commitment to advancing equity in their library’s policies and practices while utilizing their library’s trusted position to advance equity in their community. And, over half of the membership is utilizing North America’s first library benchmarking system — Edge — to measure the year-over-year ability of the library to address digital inclusion and literacy needs.

In the coming weeks, I look forward to using this blog to share thoughts, announcements and updates related to ULC’s work. And I look forward to your sharing what’s on your mind and what your library is tackling. To get us started, participants in ULC’s Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs initiative are writing blogs on their experience and lessons learned in sharpening their ability to serve emerging entrepreneurs — particularly women, people of color, immigrants and individuals reentering civic life from the justice system.

Please be sure to check back regularly and stay tuned to e-News Weekly and ULC’s social media for notifications about new blog posts. And, feel free to reach out with comments, questions or pitches for blog content.

This blog is not only a blog, just as a library is not only a building. This new feature is a forum for the voices that are shaping the future of our field. It reflects the ever-changing definitions of 21st century libraries. Most importantly, it is what we — as a community — make of it.

Watch Mayor Nenshi's Remarks at the New Calgary Public Library Central Library Opening