Learn how public libraries can partner with local governments to support important community issues such as economic development, public safety, environmental sustainability, cultural diversity, education, and literacy. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA), with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, awarded grants to nine jurisdictions to develop programs that help communities strengthen government and library partnerships and develop strategic and innovative library programming. ICMA's recent report, Maximize the Potential of Your Public Library: A Report on the Innovative Ways Public Libraries are Addressing Community Priorities, incorporates the results of the grant projects while demonstrating how public libraries of all sizes are developing innovative solutions for essential community initiatives. This report gives helpful advice on how to collaborate and position your library to best meet the needs of your communities while also remaining vibrant community centers.
The full report highlights these lessons learned:
- Library and local government leaders need to connect on community priorities.
- Building partnerships is key to innovation.
- Leadership happens at all levels of an organization.
- Successful partnerships require commitment to the effort.
- Innovation occurs in communities of all sizes.
- Not every effort will be successful.
The program in Santa Ana, California created a safe space for local teens in a community with high poverty and unemployment and incorporated the teens’ technology skills by developing opportunities for them to teach adults new employment skills and tutor younger children in math and literacy.
Llibraries can be a partner in just about any area that is important to a community as long as connections are made.
This report is a great advocacy tool for libraries to share with government officials so that they can better understand some of the benefits public libraries bring to communities. Positive statements to share include, “The results from these projects demonstrate that when libraries are actively involved in important and strategic issues, local governments have more assets and capabilities to address community concerns. Some of the capabilities libraries offer include: trained staff, physical facilities, technology assets, and access to large numbers of people in a neutral setting.”
All libraries are looking to insure their essential place in the community, secure funding through local government or grants, and keep thriving in the current economic and changing conditions. Valuable advice directed to library leaders includes the following:
- Think outside the walls of the library and beyond collections and circulation. Understand the issues in your community and explore how your library can make positive contributions and promote the expanded view to all library staff.
- Build relationships. Don’t wait for the senior leadership of your community to invite you to a conversation; take the initiative. Do not let yourself be out of sight and out of mind. Be visible.
- Invite community leaders to the library, especially to special events that you are sponsoring, whether or not they are already advocates (e.g. elected officials, friends of the library, board members, etc.)
- Think about events you can sponsor that are relevant to the issues in your community to demonstrate your relevance to community leaders.
- Nurture and preserve the library’s positive image with the public and the perception that the library is a safe and neutral space. These are among the strongest asset of libraries.