Three Areas of Opportunity for Library, Local Government Collaboration Revealed in ICMA Survey

January 17, 2017

Washington, DC, January 17, 2017 – Local government leaders envision public libraries as a key resource to support their communities’ education and digital inclusion goals while indicating interest in exploring new roles for libraries to address other community priorities, according to a recent survey conducted by ICMA (the International City/County Management Association), in partnership with The Aspen Institute and the Public Library Association (PLA).

The new report, Local Libraries Advancing Community Goals, 2016, highlights three areas of opportunity for library and local government leaders to work together more closely: collaborating on community priorities, engaging in active information sharing and communication about community issues, and seeking additional funding sources to enable libraries to expand programming and services.

Nearly 2,000 chief administrative officers and local government leaders responded to the ICMA survey. The goal of the research was to understand how public libraries can be leveraged to advance community goals and how government agencies can partner with library leaders to better engage, inform, and empower residents. The survey was conducted as part of the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries and includes additional analysis on key factors influencing local government responses in a supplemental report by independent researcher John B. Horrigan, PhD, who previously served as research director for the development of the National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission.

While libraries are viewed by local government leaders as having an important role in the community, according to Horrigan’s analysis, their engagement with library leadership and resources is influenced by three major factors: an existing governing relationship, general fund support for the library, and a population greater than 100,000.

“Libraries are a vital community resource,” says Amy Garmer, Director of the Dialogue on Public Libraries at the Aspen Institute. “Local government leaders recognize the importance of libraries. It’s now time for library leaders to have a seat at the table and be invited to participate in discussions on relevant topics related to the community. Combining the knowledge and resources of library leaders with those of local government leaders would strengthen communities and help to readily address priorities in areas such as education, workforce and community development, and access to broadband and digital literacy skills.”

The following are the top five community priorities, ranked high or very high, as areas where local government leaders see libraries playing an important role:

  • access to high-speed Internet service (73%)
  • digital literacy (65%)
  • early childhood education (65%)
  • primary and secondary school attainment (59%)
  • online learning/virtual learning (52%)

“In many communities across the United States, public libraries have become much more than a place to borrow books,” says ICMA Executive Director Marc Ott. “Increasingly, libraries serve as hubs of information and community resources—a place for people to learn, create, access services, and engage with one another. Through ICMA’s recent survey and related activities, we are documenting the innovative ways that public leaders are leveraging their local libraries to build stronger communities. The opportunities and lessons shared by our members will help to inform leading practice and the evolution of public libraries nationwide.”

Engagement between local government leaders and libraries shows a gap that can be improved upon. According to Horrigan’s analysis of survey data, communication between local government leaders and library leaders is higher when there is a governing or funding relationship. “Some 56% of libraries with a governing relationship are invited often or very often to discussions about local issues compared with 38% of all respondents,” notes Horrigan, who says this holds true for libraries that receive a funding allocations from the general fund (51%) and in communities with populations of 100,000 people or more (52%).

Library funding also was an important topic addressed in the survey. For the library to meet community priorities, expanding programming and services may be necessary.

“With great trust and reach, libraries make for a truly cost-effective and impactful community investment. More than just a building or idea, the public library has always been an exceptional fusion of people and knowledge,” said PLA President Felton Thomas. “Libraries and librarians also can be powerful partners in advancing community priorities, and I hope this important new data will open more conversations with our local government leaders about what we can achieve together to boost educational and economic opportunities for all.”

Overall, a narrow majority of local governments (53%) indicated that they believe libraries are adequately funded. The percentage increases slightly in libraries with a governing relationship with local government (60%) and in places with a population greater than 100,000 (58%).

While a slight majority believes library funding is adequate, a slightly smaller percentage (45%) agree or strongly agree that libraries need more funding to support the library’s role in their community. The percentage increases slightly for those libraries that have a governing relationship (53%) ­­­and those who receive allocations from the general fund (51%).

The ICMA survey included four questions that the Pew Research Center has also asked in its surveys of Americans age 16 and over regarding services that the library should be providing. Horrigan’s analysis shows that strong majorities of local government leaders and the public think that libraries should coordinate more closely with schools and that libraries should provide technology and resources in makerspaces. However, the analysis indicates that “a disconnect emerges for training for the digital world,” with just under half of local government respondents saying that libraries should offer programs to help people protect their privacy and security online while three-quarters of the public thinks that libraries should definitely do this.

To read the complete results of the ICMA survey, go to:

To read the summary report of John Horrigan’s analysis, go to: HTTP://AS.PN/ICMASURVEY

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC,Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye Riiver on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.Washington, DC, Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye Riiver on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.It also has an office in
New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

The International City/County Management Association
ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, advances professional local government worldwide. The organization’s mission is to create excellence in local governance by developing and fostering professional management to build sustainable communities that improve people’s lives. ICMA provides member support, publications, data and information, peer and results-oriented assistance, and training and professional development to nearly 11,000 appointed city, town, and county leaders and other individuals and organizations throughout the world. The management decisions made by ICMA’s members affect millions of individuals living in thousands of communities throughout the world, from small villages and towns to large metropolitan areas.

Public Library Association
The Public Library Association (PLA) is the largest association dedicated to supporting the unique and evolving needs of public library professionals. Founded in 1944, PLA serves nearly 9,000 members in public libraries large and small in communities across the United States and Canada, with a growing presence around the world. PLA strives to help its members shape the essential institution of public libraries by serving as an indispensable ally for public library leaders. For more information about PLA, visit


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