An excellent book on a topic of ongoing interest to me crossed my desk recently. The Library’s Contribution to Your Community : A Resource Manual, 2nd ed., prepared by Southern Ontario Library Service, lays out the case for the public library in serving the community’s interests by listing benefits provided by the public library. Each description of a benefit is followed by strategies to communicate those benefits and to offer counter arguments against those who dispute the library’s role in the community.
Keeping a list of benefits offered by the public library close by is, I think, an excellent tool to have ready whenever discussions about the value of public libraries come up. By listing the benefits on my blog I hope to keep better track of them, and perhaps elaborate on them as time goes on.
Benefit: Lifelong learning
Many individuals in the community have aspirations for ongoing learning, or ‘learning for leisure’. There is a growing emphasis on developing new skills and interests, such as mastering Oriental cooking, taking up photography, car repair, or learning a new language. The public library can make the argument that the lifelong learning opportunities offered are affordable and accesible. Usually the public library is the only place one can find these informal and unstructured opportunities to learn.
Benefit: Support for Individuals in the Education System
The public library supplements the resources found in school libraries. In addition, the public library offers study space and evening and weekend hours. Some libraries provide homework help and teleconference facilities for distance education programs. The public library is an important resource for the home schooling and alternative schooling movements. A complementary role to the existing educational structures should be emphasized to alleviate the concern that public libraries are a costly replacement.
Benefit: Reading and Numeracy Skills
Supporting literacy skills covers reading readiness for pre-school children, maintenance of reading skills through summer vacations, and adult literacy including literacy and numeracy for employment. Early exposure to reading lays the foundation for future success in formal education, according to research, and this is especially important for the children from immigrant families where English is not the first language.
Benefit: English as a Second Language
The public library may offers services, resources, and space for ESL (English as a Second Language) needs, perhaps complementing the services from other community agencies.
Benefit: Technology/Information Literacy
The public library needs to support technology and information literacy as a life skill. The public library should provide access to computers, as well as to commercial databases that support individuals and businesses in the community that cannot otherwise afford them. The public library has a role in guiding users to high quality and reliable information on the Internet. Listing these benefits should counter the argument that the Internet is replacing libraries.
Benefit: Use of Leisure Time
Recreational reading (or viewing or listening to audio-visual material) is one of the most used services offered by the public library. The variety and depth of the library’s collections is important to the special needs segments of the community, such as the visually impaired or those in lower income brackets. A large proportion of the population values the library’s role in filling leisure time and stimulating mental and spiritual well being.
Benefit: Cultural Awareness
Municipalities needs to understand, develop, and promote their "cultural capital," and public libraries can play several roles. These roles can be: use of facilities, community partnerships, support for local arts community and budding individuals, outreach activities, and specific cultural programs. The perception of the link between libraries and culture needs to be developed.
Benefit: Information Services to Local Business
The public library can serve all businesses in the community, but it may be more important to self-employed individuals and small or home-based businesses. The public library is often the only source of affordable and available information for small businesses. The information covered benefits business decisions such as: following government procedures and regulations, marketing by analyzing demographic information, new product development, the development of business plans, and improved management practices. The public library is an often overlooked contributor to the economic health of the community.
Benefit: New Business Development
The public library can support the entrepreneur with information such as regulations, business registration, training programs, or accessing business resources. The public library offers the hours, space, and resources to build upon lifelong learning, career development, and literacy skills to help individuals in their new business developments.
Benefit: Industrial/Commercial Attraction
Public libraries contribute to the quality of life factors that attract businesses to a community. Promoting the public library can target business individuals who are library users and who see the public library as a critical factor in the community economic development strategy.
Benefit: Support for the Retail Sector
Visits to the libraries may boost local retail and help the viability of some areas, such as the downtown.
The library may be a special destination because of a unique special collection, a local history collection, or genealogical records. The library may carry local tourism information. The library also may offer e-mail access to visitors. Any support for tourism offered by the library can be cited as a benefit.
Benefit: Information Services for Personal Decisions
The public library offers affordable, accessible, reliable and confidential information that helps people make personal decisions. Resources include: nutrition, health, and fitness resources; consumer reports; travel guidebooks; how-to manuals on everything from making a will to building a house; investment and financial planning guides; and university and college calendars. The public library is an important source of information and referral for personal matters such marriage break-ups, care for aging relatives, living with a debilitating medical condition, raising difficult children, or adopting a healthier lifestyle. While this is one area that some people may say that the Internet offers an alternative to public libraries, the access and guidance opportunities under the Technology/Information Literacy benefit can be cited.
Benefit: Government Services
The public library is an intermediary between printed and electronic government information and the community. In some cases the library is conducting transactions on the government’s behalf. The federal and provincial governments have depository programs whereby public libraries routinely receive new publications.
Benefit: Career Development and Search for Employment
Public libraries provide resources that help individuals investigate career interests, pursue employment, or upgrade skills related to their occupation. Resources include databases of job listings and employment opportunities, publications and programs on preparing résumés and making career choices, and word processors for writing résumés.
Benefit: Social Interaction/Sense of Community
The public library provides a safe and comfortable environment where members of the community meet and interact. Residents with common interests can meet like-minded people through the programs and services offered by the library. Programs for parents, younger children, and older adults play an important role in promoting a sense of community. Also, the library provides outreach programs to those confined to their homes or institutions.
Benefit: Satisfaction with the Community as a Place to Live
The public library contributes to a sense of satisfaction with the municipality as a place to live. The library can be seen as part of the community amenities that contribute to a positive image of the community.
Benefit: Community Awareness
The public library has a role in keeping residents informed and involved in community affairs. The library provides access to community information and links to other agencies and services. The library may play a role in preserving and maintaining the community’s history by being a repository of archives, local history collections, and genealogical resources.
Benefit: Support to Community Groups/Agencies
The public library is a source of information and services to community groups, local history clubs, ethnic associations, and sports and artists groups. In addition to being a source of information, the library can provide meeting rooms, equipment, assistance with programs, and publicity for programs. There might be a perception that the library services only individuals when in fact support for groups, particularly non-profit and volunteer groups, may be a part of the library’s service mandate to the community.
Benefit: Support for Cultural Identity and Diversity
The public library’s support for cultural identity and diversity is important in communities that are home to new immigrants. The library’s services ease and accelerate assimilation and reduce dependence on social services and agencies.