November 13, 2008

New Grant to Support Non-Traditional Use of Libraries

Grants support local governments’ efforts to innovatively use public libraries to address community needs.

Once an institution devoted to book circulation, the public library is evolving. A recent study of the members of ICMA, the premier local government leadership and management organization, found some communities are using their public libraries for compelling new projects, such as providing services for teens, immigrant residents, recycling, health, and public safety.

During the next two years, with the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ICMA plans to encourage adoption of more such leading practices among local governments and demonstrate the value of public libraries as a vital tool in supporting community sustainability through the ICMA Public Library Innovation Grant. Local governments can employ these grants to develop new and creative ways of using their public library to deliver services in areas such as public safety, disaster preparedness, sustainability, health, immigration, civic engagement, and economic development.

Recognizing the importance of the manager/librarian relationship to create and sustain change, each Public Library Innovation Grant will be anchored by a partnership between the office of the chief administrative officer (city, town, and county managers) and the public library. A series of leadership workshops and project coaching will help grantees solidify the partnership, ensure the short-term success of the project, and secure new resources to support the long-term use of libraries in addressing community goals.

Through the program, ICMA will provide a total of $500,000 in Public Library Innovation Grants. Individual grants will range from $20,000 to $60,000. Only U.S. local governments and libraries are eligible to apply.
The Public Library Innovation Grant program is the result of an ongoing partnership between ICMA and the Gates Foundation that began more than a year ago, when ICMA and the Gates Foundation partnered on the Local Government and Public Libraries Initiative to engage local government managers as leaders in support of public libraries. A study conducted as part of the initiative revealed that the chief librarian/library director was a member of the local government management team in less than half of responding local governments, and that the chief librarian/library director participated in weekly meetings with the manager in only 41 percent of communities.

“These statistics suggest that for many local governments, libraries are not being used to strategically address community needs,” says Susan Benton, director of domestic programs at ICMA. “If local government managers remain unaware of, and uninvolved in, the changing role of libraries, these valuable community assets will be forced to tackle obstacles alone and will struggle to meet broader community needs.”

For more information about the ICMA Public Library Innovation Grants, contact Molly Donelan at Applications, guidelines, and a budget template are available at

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