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Future of the Library Forum

San Francisco Public Library, California

Innovation Summary

Through a structured multi-year process, library staff is achieving future readiness through rigorous employee engagement. Staff from all levels of the organization are grappling with some of the major issues facing public libraries, and developing ideas for continuous learning, optimal service delivery, user experience/service design and Theory of Change.

Problem Statement

Libraries nationwide are contending with their relevance to their communities in an era of ubiquitous information. How can we grow new audiences, train staff for new activities and raise public awareness, all while still supporting existing core users? And what are the priorities for directing our resources and targeting specific audiences to ensure thriving libraries in the future? We know we may not have the answers, but recognize the importance of asking these questions now.


The forum participants identified trends through intensive environmental scanning as well as examining how progressive peer libraries are addressing the future. This transformative work allowed the library to prioritize key areas to focus on future readiness: user experience/design thinking, authentic staff engagement and community impact. In addition, the library partnered with Harvard Business School Community Partners to facilitate a Theory of Change analysis.


The initial cohort of the "Future of the Library Forum" did tremendous work piloting user engagement/awareness opportunities, conceptualizing ideas for branch renovation projects, highlighting the need for greater transparency and communication with staff, and developing direction for future cohorts. Moving into year two, the Forum is entering a design phase with staff rewriting more relevant job descriptions, prototyping new service delivery models, creating new metrics and engaging staff at multiple levels within the library.