DUBLIN, Ohio, July 15, 2008—OCLC, the world’s largest library research and service organization, has released findings from a research study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation designed to identify factors that both drive and limit local library funding support in the United States.
From Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America found that most people are unaware of how their local libraries are funded, that library financial support is only marginally related to library visitation, and that voters who believe that the library is a transformational force, rather than a source of information, are more likely to support an increase in library funding.
The OCLC report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, part of a $1.2 million grant to determine the current state of public support for public libraries in the United States. OCLC worked with Leo Burnett USA, a national research and marketing agency, to conduct the study.
"The good news is that our research confirms that most Americans hold the library in high esteem, a part of one’s national identity in a democracy," said Cathy De Rosa, Global Vice President of Marketing, OCLC, and principal contributor to the report. "The freedom to access information and increase both personal and community knowledge are highly valued. Our advocacy research findings suggest that by promoting these core beliefs to the right sectors of the community, we can increase library awareness and library funding."
"In nearly every community in the United States, people rely on their public library for information, knowledge and opportunity," said Jill Nishi, Deputy Director of the U.S. Libraries initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Unfortunately, many libraries do not have the adequate funding to meet community needs. This new research shows there’s an opportunity to let more people know how they can help libraries transform lives and communities."
Some 80 percent of U.S. public library funding comes from local funding sources. But many other vital public services—such as police and fire departments, public schools, public health, road maintenance and park services—are also funded locally. Like other public services, libraries are facing increased financial strain. Library visitation is up, but the rate at which library referenda are being placed on the ballot and passing has decreased steadily in the last decade. Who should libraries target with their marketing and advocacy efforts? And how can they balance the need to increase awareness of the need for financial support with serving the increasing number of people who are using the library?
The report suggests that market segmentation is key in helping libraries advocate for increased funding support for U.S. public libraries.
Among the findings from the report:
- Many people are unaware of what their libraries offer. People may know about traditional services, but they are less aware of library community services and programs. Much of the effort to develop programs to meet the needs of teens, seniors and other groups within the community go unrecognized and voters have low awareness of the many electronic resources that comprise more and more of libraries’ collections and budgets.
- The library’s most committed funding supporters are not the heaviest library users. In fact, the research showed almost no correlation between voters’ likelihood to be ‘definite’ library supporters and how often they use the library. Advocating for library support to the most frequent library users is not the most effective strategy as many of the strongest library supporters rarely visit the library.
- Perceptions of the librarian are an important predictor of library funding support. Voters who see their local public librarian as committed to advocating on behalf of the library and its role in the community are more likely to vote ‘yes’ for a library funding initiative. Passionate librarians who are involved in their community make a difference in library funding support.
- Most voters see the public library as a provider of ‘information.’ But those who see the library as ‘transformational’ are more likely to increase their taxes in its support. One participant in the research, a cattle rancher from Kansas, summed up the library’s transformational power when he explained, "People who’ve been exposed to libraries realize that there are a lot of other cultures and things out there that a small town of 4,000 doesn’t provide access to. The library is literally a window on the world."
- Increasing support for libraries may not necessarily mean a trade-off of financial support for other public services. A comparison of voter willingness to support increased taxes for a variety of public services, including safety, health and education, shows that the voters most likely to fund the public library are also more likely to fund police and fire departments, schools and parks.
Ms. De Rosa said she hopes the report will spark discussion and interest among library professionals. From Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America is available for download free of charge at www.oclc.org/reports/funding. Print copies of the 200-page report are also available from the same site.
Founded in 1967 and headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, OCLC is a nonprofit library service and research organization that has provided computer-based cataloging, reference, resource sharing, eContent, preservation, library management and Web services to 60,000 libraries in 112 countries and territories. OCLC and its member libraries worldwide have created and maintain WorldCat, the world’s richest online resource for finding library materials. For more information, visit www.oclc.org.
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.