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Campaign to Increase Support for Libraries - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Georgia and Iowa to lead effort; libraries operate under significant strain as people flock to them for services and resources in difficult economy

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: +1.206.709.3400

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $5 million grant to the OCLC library cooperative to develop a public information campaign that will help public library leaders heighten awareness of the needs of local libraries and increase support for the services they provide during these challenging times. OCLC will pilot the campaign in select areas of Georgia and Iowa starting this summer as well as a limited number of other communities which will be selected later this spring. Later in the year, OCLC will make available community awareness campaign materials and other guides to assist library leaders throughout the country in their efforts to strengthen support for local libraries.

The current economic crisis has led to dramatic increases in library visitation across the nation, as people rely on 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 at home.

The tightening 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 half of all libraries struggling against declining or flat budgets.

“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 Bill & Melinda 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. But we hope new partners, community leaders, and local governments will also continue to recognize the value of libraries and support them accordingly.”

OCLC will work with Leo Burnett USA, a Chicago-based marketing communications agency, to design and test the community support campaigns in Georgia and Iowa with the help of field managers. They will use advertising, direct marketing, online engagement, public relations, and grassroots community initiatives to heighten awareness of the need for increased library support. Approaches will be informed by market research OCLC and Leo Burnett conducted in 2007 that identified factors which drive and limit support for public libraries.

“The value and relevance of libraries is especially clear in a difficult economy. However, few people are aware of how their libraries are funded and of the increasingly fragile state of library funding,” said Cathy De Rosa, global vice president of marketing for OCLC. “It is our goal that the campaign model jointly created and piloted with local communities can provide a roadmap for building awareness of the vital services libraries provide and how to convert that awareness into increased support.”

This spring, OCLC will solicit proposals from libraries that wish to participate in the early pilot campaign and will award a limited number of small grants to support the campaign in select communities.

“Public library use in Georgia is soaring and many of our facilities and staff are strained,” said State Librarian Dr. Lamar Veatch. “We are very pleased that OCLC and the Gates Foundation have selected Georgia to participate in this important library advocacy program. This work should help refine techniques to enhance the understanding on the part of local funding sources of the vital roles that libraries play in their communities.”

“The State Library of Iowa is very pleased to be a part of this important project,” said Mary Wegner, state librarian of Iowa. “We know that Iowa’s public libraries are key partners in their local communities, and we welcome the opportunity to work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and OCLC to develop more effective ways to tell the library story.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began investing in computer and Internet services in U.S. public libraries in 1997. To date, it has provided $350 million in grants and other support to install and sustain computers in libraries and train thousands of library staff in nearly 13,000 libraries in all 50 states and U.S. territories. In recent years, the foundation has also supported advocacy training and awareness efforts that will help libraries sustain high-quality online access for patrons in partnership with their communities.

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 69,000 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. Search on the Web at For more information, visit

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