New Gates Foundation Grants Seek Innovative Approaches to Using Community Libraries

New Gates Foundation Grants Seek Innovative Approaches to Using
Community Libraries

An initial study of ICMA members found some communities using their
public libraries for compelling new projects, like providing services
for teen and immigrant residents and supporting recycling and public
safety. Over the next two years, with the help of the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation, ICMA intends to multiply those novel practices and
demonstrate the value of public libraries in supporting sustainable
In November 2008, local governments will be able to apply for an ICMA
Public Library Innovation Grant. Grants will be 18 months in length,
and will focus on using the public library to address community
priorities and issues. During the project, ICMA will provide a total of
$500,000 in Public Library Innovation Grants to cities, towns, and
counties. Individual grants will likely range from $25,000 to $75,000.
More than a year ago, ICMA began working with the Gates Foundation on
the Local Government and Public Libraries Initiative to engage local
government managers as leaders in support of public libraries. An ICMA
survey conducted in November 2007 indicated that less than half of the
responding local government managers reported that the chief
librarian/library director was a member of the local government
management team and only 41 percent reported weekly meetings with the
chief librarian/library director. These statistics suggested that for
many local government managers, libraries are not being used to
strategically address community needs. 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.
As a result, a 26-member ICMA advisory committee looked at a variety of
ways to strengthen the partnership between communities
and libraries. The committee identified areas where public libraries
could play a larger role in delivering services, including public
safety and disaster preparedness, sustainability, health, immigration,
civic engagement, and economic development. The advisory committee also
noted that a strong relationship between the library and the local
government manager is vital for the success of these services and
improves the overall health of the community.

All Innovation Grants will be anchored by a partnership between the
office of the chief administrative officer (city, county, and town
managers) and the public library, recognizing the importance of the
manager/librarian relationship to create and sustain change. The
grantees will be supported by a series of leadership workshops and
project coaching. The aim of the professional development component is
to solidify the partnership, ensure the short-term success of the
project, and secure new capacity for the awardees that will support the
long-term use of libraries in addressing community goals.
Applications for the Public Library Innovations Grants will be
available in November, and grants will be awarded in February
2009. ICMA members who would like to receive e-mail updates on the
program should contact Molly Donelan at
For more information about ICMA’s Local Government and Public Libraries
Initiative, visit

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