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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Proving the Digital Difference that Public Libraries Make

Some of you may remember that, back in February 2011, I posted about a study that I referred to as "worth its weight in gold" for public libraries that needed to prove their value to city and county managers. That study was done by the ICMA, the International City/County Management Association.

Well, Friday, 9 December was an exciting day. I was doing breakout workshops at a library's staff training day and the keynote speaker was none other than the Executive in Residence of the ICMA!! Dr. Ron Carlee gave a great talk about the library-related work that ICMA is doing, and it was punctuated with great advice and good quotes. Let me share it with you.

Ron Carlee understands a lot about government, economics, and budgets—and libraries. He knows that libraries help build sustainable communities that can grow. (This was made abundantly clear in the study, called Maximize the Value of Your Public Library. Download it for free!) In this presentation on "enhancing community relevance in an era of constrained resources," he detailed four main areas where ICMA is working with libraries:  

1. Innovation projects
2. U.S. Impact Survey
3. Framework for Digital Inclusion
4. Edge: Benchmarks for Public Access

I want to concentrate on "digital inclusion" – making sure that everyone has access to technology and help using it. One great point that Carlee made was that three of the biggest employers in the US (Walmart, McDonalds, and Target) only take applications online. So in order for people to get even the most basic jobs, they need computers and the skills to use them. Libraries are making that possible.

"Were it not for the public library, we'd have virtually no digital inclusion at all," Carlee said. Libraries make technology infrastructure available, affordable, and accessible.

Here are a few final bits of his advice:

* To influence decision-makers, we must explain to them the negative consequences of not doing what we do, and also show the positive consequences of providing public technology access. It's not enough to say, "We offer free internet access." We need to show, with data and stories, what can happen if we don't have money to offer it as well as how we improve people's lives when we do offer it.

* Everyone should develop an elevator speech about the impact of libraries!

* We need to understand the budget process and educate the decision-makers. As Carlee concluded, "If you don't do it, it's not gonna get done."

I want to thank everyone at the Loudoun County Public Library in Virginia for inviting me to talk about marketing at their Staff Development Day, and for bringing in Ron Carlee to talk about the big picture and to encourage everyone to help improve it. 


Sandra Fernandez said...

Digital inclusion and digital literacy are becoming mainstays of library services. At Houston Public Library, where I work, we run the city's Digital Inclusion Initiative. The core of the initiative is to take our digital literacy programs and push them outside the walls of the library.

~Kathy Dempsey said...

Sandra, that sounds fascinating! Is there a link or something you could share so others can see what you're doing in Houston?