September 15, 2017

A new generation puts its trust in an old institution: public libraries

Get inspired by three stories of innovation and ingenuity across America, including how Millennials are making libraries cool again.

A new report from the Pew Research Center reveals how different generations rely on public libraries for delivering trusted information. Photo of the New York Public Library by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Every Friday, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions individuals and organizations are creating in their communities. Want to share a story from your hometown? Email us at

A new generation, an old institution: A recent report from the Pew Research Center reveals how Millennials are embracing one of America’s most dependable community services: its public libraries. Analysis from 2016 data shows that, compared to other generations, Millennials are more likely to put their trust in libraries. Eighty-seven percent of Millennials—compared to Gen X (77 percent), Baby Boomers (74 percent), and the Silent Generation (68 percent)—responded that libraries help them find information that is trustworthy and reliable. In an age where misinformation and phrases like “fake news” populate our social media streams, finding a trustworthy source is important to sift out the facts.

Investing in students: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is hoping that a $2 million grant will help teachers and administrators identify ways to improve student success and erase a persistent racial achievement gap. The grant, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, will support the development and launch of a program to improve academic outcomes for African-American males and support school safety, according to a press release from the North Carolina school district. A three-year study, which will be led by nonprofit partner Research Triangle Institute, will kick off at the start of the 2018-2019 school year. “What we learn in this three-year study will not help only CMS students,” district superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox said. “It will also inform the national conversation on success for all students and all schools. The root causes of the disproportionate rate of suspensions and expulsions for African-American males, and their lower success rates in school, have not been fully identified. This grant will help us discern the reasons for the disparity and what can be done to address them.” The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights data reveal that African American students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students.

Reimagining the rec center: Philadelphia is betting big on its public spaces. Rebuild Philadelphia, a joint private and publicly funded initiative, has a plan to invest $500 million to renew its parks, libraries, and rec centers over the next seven years. In order to understand the role that these spaces play in their communities, the nonprofit NextCity partnered with the urban design firm Gehl to survey how residents were using two of Philly’s neighborhood rec centers, both located in neighborhoods with rising poverty rates. The study revealed how these two locations fostered community and civic engagement. Sixty-nine percent of total respondents said they had a positive view of their park, and 84 percent said they thought of it as a neighborhood gathering place. But safety was also a clear concern to residents of both parks, especially teens. While 61 percent of respondents said their park is safe or very safe, only 32 percent of teens ages 16-19 answered that way. Edwin Desamour, a volunteer and sometimes paid staffer at a nearby playground, told NextCity that involving youth in the decision-making process on building and reimagining the parks shouldn’t be overlooked. “I think it’s very important, the work that took place up to the build,” Desamour said. Leaders should engage youth early on, “then you can build and people take ownership and respect it, and they want to protect it by all means.” See the full survey results here.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.