City/county leaders cite digital inclusion, education as top priorities for libraries

For Immediate Release
Tue, 01/17/2017

Contact:

Kara O'Keefe
Manager, Marketing and Membership
Public Library Association (PLA)

PLA resources support public libraries in advancing community concerns

CHICAGO — Local government leaders envision public libraries as a key resource to support their communities’ education and digital inclusion goals while indicating interest in exploring new roles for libraries to address other community priorities, according to a recent survey conducted by ICMA (the International City/County Management Association), in partnership with The Aspen Institute and the Public Library Association (PLA).

The new report, Local Libraries Advancing Community Goals, 2016, highlights five community priorities, ranked high or very high, where local government leaders see libraries playing an important role:

  • access to high-speed Internet service (73 percent)
  • digital literacy (65 percent)
  • early childhood education (65 percent)
  • primary and secondary school attainment (59 percent)
  • civic engagement (45 percent)

“Increasingly, libraries serve as hubs of information and community resources—a place for people to learn, create, access services, and engage with one another,” said ICMA Executive Director Marc Ott. “Through ICMA’s recent survey and related activities, we are documenting the innovative ways that public leaders are leveraging their local libraries to build stronger communities. The opportunities and lessons shared by our members will help to inform leading practice and the evolution of public libraries nationwide.”

These priorities also mesh well with areas of focus and development for PLA, including DigitalLearn.org, Every Child Ready to Read and new research related to family engagement through libraries by the Harvard Family Research Project. PLA’s Project Outcome initiative helps libraries measure the impact of programs like these in communities nationwide to better inform service improvements and collaborations with local partners.

“More than just a building or idea, the public library has always been an exceptional fusion of people and knowledge,” said PLA President Felton Thomas. “Libraries and librarians also can be powerful partners in advancing community priorities, and I hope this new data will open more conversations with our local government leaders about what we can achieve together to boost educational and economic opportunities for all.”

The survey also finds three areas of opportunity for library and local government leaders to work together more closely: collaborating on community priorities, engaging in active information sharing and communication about community issues, and seeking additional funding sources to enable libraries to expand programming and services.

Nearly 2,000 chief administrative officers and local government leaders responded to the ICMA survey. The goal of the research was to understand how public libraries can be leveraged to advance community goals and how government agencies can partner with library leaders to better engage, inform, and empower residents. The survey was conducted as part of the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries and includes additional analysis on key factors influencing government responses in a supplemental report by researcher John B. Horrigan.    

The ICMA survey included four questions the Pew Research Center also has asked in its surveys of Americans 16 years and older regarding services the library should be providing. Horrigan’s analysis shows that strong majorities of local government leaders and the public think that libraries should coordinate more closely with schools and that libraries should provide technology and resources in makerspaces. However, the analysis indicates that “a disconnect emerges for training for the digital world,” with just under half of local government respondents saying that libraries should offer programs to help people protect their privacy and security online while three-quarters of the public thinks that libraries should definitely do this.

“Libraries are a vital community resource,” says Amy Garmer, director of the Dialogue on Public Libraries at the Aspen Institute. “Local government leaders recognize the importance of libraries. It’s now time for library leaders to have a seat at the table and be invited to participate in discussions on relevant topics related to the community. Combining the knowledge and resources of library leaders with those of local government leaders would strengthen communities and help to readily address priorities in areas such as education, workforce and community development, and access to broadband and digital literacy skills.”

Engagement between local government leaders and libraries shows a gap that can be improved upon. According to Horrigan’s analysis of survey data, communication between local government leaders and library leaders is higher when there is a governing or funding relationship. “Some 56 percent of libraries with a governing relationship are invited often or very often to discussions about local issues compared with 38 percent of all respondents,” notes Horrigan, who says this holds true for libraries that receive a funding allocations from the general fund (51 percent) and in communities with populations of 100,000 people or more (52 percent).

Library funding also was an important topic addressed in the survey. For the library to meet community priorities, expanding programming and services may be necessary.

While a slight majority (53 percent) believes library funding is adequate, a slightly smaller percentage (45 percent) agree or strongly agree that libraries need more funding to support the library’s role in their community. The percentage increases slightly for those libraries that have a governing relationship (53 percent) ­­­and those who receive allocations from the general fund (51 percent).

To read the complete results of the ICMA survey, go to: www.icma.org/2016librariessurveyreport. To read the summary report of John Horrigan’s analysis, go to: http://as.pn/icmasurvey. Garmer also will discuss the survey at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta (with a Facebook Live stream available, as well), at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 22.

The Public Library Association (PLA) is the largest association dedicated to supporting the unique and evolving needs of public library professionals. Founded in 1944, PLA serves nearly 9,000 members in public libraries large and small in communities across the United States and Canada, with a growing presence around the world. PLA strives to help its members shape the essential institution of public libraries by serving as an indispensable ally for public library leaders. For more information about PLA, visit www.pla.org