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The Making Cities Stronger report, which is based on data from a national survey and case studies from nine sites across the country, provides new insights into the economic impact of public libraries in American cities. The report highlights ways in which library programming in the areas early literacy, employment services, and small business development, contribute to local economic development strategies. The study also identifies ways in which library construction is used to bolster place-based development in a wide variety of settings. Commissioned by the Urban Libraries Council, the study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
About This Report
The rules of engagement in economic development are
changing. More and more, economic development success
strategies involve people, technology, and growing an
infrastructure for economic activity built on ideas,
knowledge, experience, and quality of life.
The Urban Libraries Council commissioned this study to look
at how public libraries contribute to the human dimension
of economic development. In the process, researchers also
uncovered more evidence of the important contributions
public libraries make to strengthening places and
community quality of life.
This report indicates that public libraries today are deeply
involved with people, technology, and quality of life. Public
libraries have tremendous reach geographically and
virtually. Within the U.S. there are over 9,000 public libraries
providing services in over 16,000 branch facilities and
through the Web. Nearly every one of these locally-funded
organizations offers collections and programs that support
early literacy, workforce readiness and small businesses. As
such, they are an important and dynamic part of the
community’s learning infrastructure which supports local
This study finds that the return on investment in public
libraries not only benefits individuals, but also strengthens
community capacity to address urgent issues related to
economic development. Public libraries are increasingly
finding their “fit” in the formal and informal network of
agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and community
organizations working together to elevate levels of
education and economic potential, making cities stronger.
We deeply appreciate the public library members of our
Urban Libraries Council who provided input for the research
of this report. We also appreciate the insights of our
Advisory Committee that guided this work, the Urban
Institute for helping us to learn more about the businesses
we are in, and the support and funding from the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation and Geraldine R. Dodge
We hope you will use this information as a tool to re-frame
discussions regarding the public library role in local
economic development. Our hope is to stimulate a
dialogue among developers, planning professionals, elected
officials, business and public library leaders to think
differently about the value of public libraries as unique and
versatile partners in these human resource and communitybuilding
arenas. We urge public libraries to extend and
expand their resources and strategies that can profoundly
impact local economic development conditions.
(End of excerpt. The complete report is available in PDF format.)
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Disclaimer: The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Copyright of the written materials contained within the Urban Institute website is owned or controlled by the Urban Institute.