College of Liberal Arts

Humanities Institute Community Sabbatical Grant Helps Shape Austin's New Public Library

Tue, Apr 18, 2017
The new central Austin Public Library
The new central Austin Public Library

Public libraries in the 21st century are transforming to benefit modern communities through cultural programing, access to digital materials, providing more public space and fostering educational partnerships.

Tim Staley, executive director of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation and former Humanities Institute Community Sabbatical Research Grantee, used his sabbatical term with the Humanities Institute to investigate the resurgence of the new central public library in the United States and led fundraising and planning efforts for Austin’s new Central Library, expected to open this fall. (For info on opening events visit

Across the country, new central libraries have “reasserted the relevance and importance of the public library in 21st century America by offering a vast array of services and cultural programs that have redefined the public library,” said Staley, who visited new central libraries in Phoenix, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis during his sabbatical.

In addition to print materials, new libraries provide access to the internet and digital materials, as well as a range of programming and public space that benefits communities, including:

  • Community meeting rooms;
  • Large auditoriums for lectures, film screenings and other presentations;
  • Art galleries to exhibit collections from local artists and organizations;
  • Space dedicated to both elementary-aged children and teenagers;
  • Technology resources, such as databases and IT software and equipment not found in the average household.

The Austin Central Library will include a 350-seat auditorium, art gallery, rooftop garden and event space, cooking demonstration area, art gallery and exhibit space, as well as children’s and teen’s libraries. It will also provide access to newer technology, including Google Video and chat technology in the library’s 12 meeting rooms to provide a venue for community dialogue and cultural interaction. 

“The Humanities Institute’s Community Sabbatical Research Leave allowed me to come to a thorough and specific understanding of the contemporary central library’s potential as a dynamic institution capable of enhancing the lives of its community members,” Staley said. "Most importantly, I came to understand how Austin’s new central library may reach this potential. This understanding of how exactly a central library benefits their respective communities [enhanced] the Foundation’s ability to make a compelling case for a new central library to the Austin community.”

During his sabbatical, Staley consulted with Fritz Steiner, former dean of the School of Architecture at UT Austin and current Dean and Paley Professor of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and Loriene Roy, professor in the School of Information at UT Austin. 

Listen to Staley discuss the importance of libraries in communities, why libraries need your support, and how you can get involved on this recent episode of Austin Focus.

View more photos of Austin's new Central Public Library here

The Humanities Institute partners with the Austin Public Library on our monthly Controversy & Conversation film screening series, held at the Terrazas Branch, and our monthly Democracy & Community Action Reading Group, held at the Cepeda Branch.

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