EDCUtah is highlighting a Utah community organization or multicultural resource group on a periodic basis. This is part of an effort to inform our investors about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) best practices and resources in Utah.
We spoke to Peter Bromberg, associate director of EveryLibrary.
Tell us about EveryLibrary and its mission.
EveryLibrary is the nation’s first and only nonprofit organization dedicated to helping local libraries secure new funding through local ballot initiatives, voter education, and political action. We do this in three ways:
- By training library staff, trustees, and volunteers to plan and run effective “Information Only” campaigns.
- By assisting local citizen ballot committees with planning and executing “Get Out the Vote” work for their library’s measure.
- By speaking directly to the public about the value and relevance of libraries and librarians; and by collecting data and conducting research about how to activate people to support libraries.
In short, we work to ensure that all Americans have excellent libraries by helping libraries build political power that leads to long-term, sustainable funding.
How do libraries help economic development?
Great question! And a hard one to answer succinctly because libraries really foster economic development, opportunity, and prosperity in such a varied, robust, and holistic manner. For starters, libraries provide an environment—spaces, materials, programs, caring and expert people—that are designed to foster self-directed exploration, discovery, learning, and development.
Programming that supports an economically healthy community begins with early literacy programs such as story times and even robotics classes for tots that help to develop early literacy and critical thinking skills and continues with a variety of programs that support learning and skills development through every stage of life.
Because libraries are centrally located and have night and weekend hours, our reliable broadband connections, public computers, and robust software suites provide the infrastructure to support student achievement, small business and entrepreneurial activities, and workforce skills development. Libraries also have specialized business collections, expert business librarians, proprietary databases, as well as online classes on everything from coding to bookkeeping, which help Utahns start small businesses, grow their skills, and lift themselves up to succeed in an increasingly high-tech, information-based economy.
Beyond that, attractive and flexible library facilities often serve as downtown and business district anchors as well as attractive neighborhood amenities. Nationally, we are seeing libraries being included in mixed-use spaces, and smaller specialized technology hubs or business incubators that are often being located in historically underserved neighborhoods. Libraries are really unique in the holistic way they promote economic health in our communities and are a key institution in helping families lift themselves out of the pernicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.
How do libraries help New Americans?
Libraries have evolved so much over the past 100 years, being early adopters of personal and networking computing, providing reliable access to the Internet, etc. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that libraries continue to be that welcoming, accessible space in our civic landscape where immigrants can connect with their adopted country and their new neighbors. Libraries help NewAmericans learn English, either by offering classes and resources, or connecting patrons with local community organizations who teach English as a second language (ESL) and offer conversation groups in library meeting rooms.
We also help new arrivals understand and navigate complex government forms and procedures, connect them with local nonprofits who offer aid and assistance, and generally provide a welcoming space with many opportunities to learn about their community, meet their neighbors, and form new friendships.And while forming new friendships is important, libraries also provide spaces and technology for new arrivals to connect with family and friends across the globe through video chat or email using library computers, or even laptops and wifi hotspots that can be checked out and brought home.
We talk about the “after 5 pm” effect for workers of diverse backgrounds. How can libraries foster a sense of belonging?
I’ve been a librarian for 30 years and I’ve lost count of how many times patrons have shared their “when-I-was-new-in-town” stories of how the library was the place that helped them feel a part of their new community. I’m sure that the convenient locations, as well as night and weekend hours, play apart, but ultimately it is the equitable, non-judgmental, we-meet-you-where-you-are ethos of librarians that creates a welcoming environment for all. Beyond that, libraries today have such an incredible variety of programming, creation/learning spaces, meeting spaces, and even spaces (like cafes) that are increasingly designed for social interaction, all of which foster a climate of connection.
There are so many opportunities for people to connect around shared interests, whether through the good old book club, or through community gardening, gaming, yoga, sewing, beer-brewing, finance, parenting, or writing workshops. The variety of programming means there is something for everyone, and participating in these programs, meeting new people who share your interests, or even volunteering to be a teacher or presenter in a library program, leads to that deeper sense of connection and belonging.
How do libraries build a community’s “social capital”?
I think this question flows well from the discussion of belonging. First and foremost, libraries help build a community’s social capital by providing what Eric Klinenberg calls “social infrastructure.” Klinenberg, who is a professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University(NYU), has found in his research that libraries, as opposed to other public spaces like parks, markets, and playgrounds, are excellent at building social capital because they provide established physical spaces that allow for recurring interactions. When these spaces are combined with structured, interest-based programming, the result is the formation of more durable and meaningful relationships.
Our public libraries are places where people—parents and kids especially, but also hobbyists, new arrivals, entrepreneurs, artists—interact with and befriend others with different political preferences, or with a different ethnic, religious, or class status than themselves.There’s just no other comparable space in our civic landscape that fosters these types of connections or nurtures this important development of social capital.
I highly recommend Klinenberg’s book, “Palaces For the People”, which lays out his research findings about the many ways libraries strengthen the fabric of our society. And as we all probably know too well, the need for social capital, trust, and healthy civic engagement is vitally important in a society that is otherwise becoming increasingly distrustful and polarized around political viewpoints. It’s never been more important for us to understand the value of good social infrastructure and to invest our public funds accordingly.
How may EDCUtah investors support EveryLibrary?
As a 100% donor supported nonprofit, we welcome donations from individuals and businesses that want to show their support for libraries in America. Donations are what make it possible for us to work with libraries pro bono. Over 10 years we’ve been able to convert one dollar in donations into $1,600 in library funding. We’ve worked on more than 120 library ballot initiatives helping those libraries win voter approval for more than $1.3 billion dollars in local funding. Not a bad ROI!