Gates Foundation Awards $5 Million for Campaign to Increase Support for Public Libraries

Gates Foundation Awards $5 Million for Campaign to Increase Support for Public Libraries

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $5 million grant to the Online Computer Library Center to develop a public information campaign designed to heighten awareness of the needs of local libraries while increasing support for the services they provide during these challenging economic times.

Starting this summer, the Ohio-based OCLC will pilot the campaign in select areas of Georgia and Iowa and in a limited number of other communities that will be selected later this spring. Later in the year, OCLC will make the campaign and other materials available to library leaders throughout the country to help them build support for local libraries. "There has never been a more important time to highlight the importance of and support the services provided by public libraries," said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the Gates Foundation's U.S. Libraries effort. "As a long-time partner to libraries, we believe it's critical to help ensure they remain strong during this especially challenging time."

The recession has led to dramatic increases in library visits, as people rely on their local libraries for free computer and Internet access to conduct job searches, access government services, learn new workforce skills, and use other resources they can no longer afford to access at home. Meanwhile, the shrinking economy has also put library funding — 80 percent of which comes from local sources — at risk. Many library systems predict deep state and local funding cuts in 2009, a growing burden for the roughly 50 percent of all libraries struggling with declining or flat budgets.

The campaign will use advertising, direct marketing, online engagement, public relations, and grassroots community initiatives to heighten awareness of the need for increased library support. "The value and relevance of libraries is especially clear in a difficult economy," said OCLC global vice president of marketing Cathy De Rosa. "However, few people are aware of how their libraries are funded and of the increasingly fragile state of library funding. [We believe that] the campaign model jointly created and piloted with local communities can provide a road map for building awareness of the vital services libraries provide and how to convert that awareness into increased support."