ULC Report: Libraries Are Sustainability Partners

December 7, 2010

Libraries are and will remain critical partners in ensuring sustainable local development, according to a new research report by the Urban Libraries Council.

The purpose of Partners for the Future: Public Libraries and Local Governments Creating Sustainable Communities “is to qualify the public library as a vehicle for sustainability and to communicate the actions local governments and libraries are taking together to create sustainable communities,” ULC said. The report offers numerous examples of how public libraries are partnering with local governments to achieve the “triple bottom line” of sustainable development: economic vitality, environmental quality, and social equity.

Libraries often function as catalysts for economic development, the report found, because their reputation as safe community assets make them desirable neighbors. But their programs also aid local economies, by providing valuable information to entrepreneurs, supporting education and early literacy, and helping job-seekers to improve their skills and find employment. At Wichita (Kans.) Public Library, for example, one short-time snapshot of computer usage found that fully half of the patrons who accessed the library’s computers were using them for career-related purposes.

Social equity is a core mission for libraries, accomplished through the strategic location of branches and mobile libraries and the delivery of programs and technology for all. On the environmental front, libraries naturally provide information, but they also serve as local models and laboratories for green practices. Fayetteville (Ark.) Public Library, for example, installed 60 solar panels on its roof in a project that also tested a state-of-the-art component developed by a local company. The solar test bed project “is clearly nontraditional for a library, but is important to their community,” said Ron Carlee, chief operating officer and director of strategic initiatives of the International City/County Management Association, which provided a grant to help fund the installation.

The report also offers a number of strategies for libraries to partner with their local governments. “Without effective partnerships with local government, libraries can become invisible and stranded community assets,” said Gerry Meek, chief executive officer of Calgary (Alberta) Public Library. The report recommends that libraries document their success, demonstrate how they can help the local government achieve its priorities, advocate for the cities and counties they serve, and model sustainability for their communities.

Partners for the Future: Public Libraries and Local Governments Creating Sustainable Communities is available as a free download at urbanlibraries.org. Print copies can be ordered for $20.



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