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Making Cities Stronger

Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development

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Document date: January 01, 2007
Released online: May 03, 2007
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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.

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full report in PDF format.


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 economic development.

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 Foundation.

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.)

Topics/Tags: | Cities and Neighborhoods | Employment

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