Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development (2007)

The study was commissioned by the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) in January 2007 and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.


Strategies for building a strong economic base are being realigned. Human resource strategies are coming to the fore, as jobs created in the new economy require highly educated and technologically-skilled workers. Strategies to keep a vibrant base of small business, traditionally a major source of local job creation, intact and competitive in a very mobile and global entrepreneurial environment are also emerging. Increasingly, physical development strategies are moving away from enticing outside firms with tax abatements and other incentives, to building on local strengths, mixing-up residential, commercial and cultural activities to create vibrant, high quality-of-life cities.
Public libraries are logical partners for local economic development initiatives that focus on people and quality of life. Libraries are widely available, highly regarded public institutions that provide a broad range of information services and support for diverse constituencies. In this era of economic transformation, the business of public libraries is being recast. Public access to digital information and technology is a draw for libraries. Their open structure combined with the power of new digital collections, technology, and training, position them to help communities make the transition from manufacturing and service economies to high tech and information economies.
Public libraries build a community’s capacity for economic activity and resiliency. Many families and caregivers rely on the library to provide important preschool reading and learning. Many people entering the workforce rely on libraries to get them online. Local businesses are increasingly tapping into the library’s online databases to keep themselves competitive and to find synergistic new business opportunities. Library facilities often anchor downtown and commercial developments, and are attractive neighborhood amenities.