Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development

Source: Carlos A. Manjarrez and Jessica Cigna, Urban Institute, Urban Libraries Council, January 2007

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.

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