News September 7, 2022

Libraries are the answer. What was the question?

Patrick Stewart, Library Foundation SD CEO

As CEO of the Library Foundation SD, I meet regularly with community members and leaders across our city. Undoubtedly, the conversation will bend toward what we love about our neighborhoods: running the dogs on Dog Beach, neighborhood gatherings in Mt. Acadia Park, the sense of community at school functions, helping neighbors with building projects, or buying a cup of coffee from a new local roaster.

These small moments make San Diego one of the best places to live in the world. But these quintessential experiences aren’t just a given; they result from good policies and equitable infrastructure investments.

Infrastructure. I know — it’s not the sexiest topic. If you believe that clean, safe, educated, cultured and thriving neighborhoods are desirable, then infrastructure is your cup of tea.

Let me explain why.

San Diegans expect a certain quality of life.

In choosing where to live, we may debate the merits of one bedroom versus two, windows facing west versus east, or the total square footage, but those aren’t the only qualities that factor into our decision.

2021 annual study by the National Association of Home Builders found that the top 5 most wanted community features are walking/​jogging trails, a typically suburban neighborhood, a park area, being near retail space, and a walkable community.” When I read this, my first reaction is: that makes sense, and to find that, look for a home near a library.

But I’m not the only one who shares that viewpoint. A 2010 Minnesota Public Libraries’ Return on Investment report found that 93% of respondents felt it was somewhat important’ or very important’ to have a public library in every community.”

93% of respondents in a Minnesota poll felt it was somewhat important” or very important” to have a public library in every community.

The reason is that libraries contribute to the neighborhood qualities we desire most. When we think of infrastructure, we think of nice roads and landscaping, but it’s so much more. Infrastructure investments make those top five community features a reality, including ensuring every community has a well-equipped community library, reinforcing those qualities.

We all want to live in safe neighborhoods

Ultimately, crime statistics may be the defining data that we use to understand the relative safety of our community, but long before that number has a chance to form, it’s infrastructure investments that influence a community’s safety.

A 2021 report
examining crime data and library locations across the United States showed that a public library may reduce crime within its nearby proximity. In particular, we find within the nearby proximity of the library a substantial reduction of burglary, vandalism, robbery, fraud, and assault.”

What’s more, it is the people leading the effort to make communities safe for all people who center libraries as trusted community spaces.

Because libraries are trusted, provide comfort and show us what’s possible, they are uniquely positioned to help our country reimagine public safety,” said Anthony Smith, Executive Director at Cities United in a column he wrote for Urban Libraries.

As we put together our Reimagining Public Safety framework of disrupting the cycle of violence, dismantling systems of inequities and investing in the new models of public safety, institutions like the library were at the forefront of our hearts and minds. When we talk about reimagining public safety, we do not focus on law enforcement, jails and detention centers; we focus on the spaces, places and systems that keep us all safe, healthy and hopeful.” To me, that statement speaks volumes.

Public libraries help reduce crime

Because libraries are trusted, provide comfort and show us what’s possible, they are uniquely positioned to help our country reimagine public safety.”

Anthony Smith, Executive Director, Cities United

We also want to enjoy life

Playing guitar. Learning to cook. Listening to an audiobook. Reading up on how to repair your car. Learning a new language. Seeing art and channeling your inner Picasso. Checking out seeds for your vegetable garden. Recording the next hit podcast.

We are a community that loves to learn and laugh, and we often turn to our local libraries to do these things and more. Infrastructure improvements allow our libraries to invest in technology, update programs, expand resources, pay talented staff, and upgrade spaces and equipment so that our local communities can enjoy more of what quality of life” has come to mean.

We want a strong economy so we all can thrive

According to research compiled from across the world by the California State Library to quantify the value of libraries for communities: for every dollar invested [in public libraries], between two dollars and ten dollars are returned, with the most common return being between three dollars and six dollars.”

Beyond literacy as a clear and key attribute to a thriving labor market, we can see other ways libraries contribute to a strong economy. As incubators for entrepreneurs and small businesses, libraries also provide a strong return on the infrastructure dollars invested in them. San Diego’s small businesses (employing nearly 60% of the workforce) increasingly look to the library’s programs like the new Micro-Business Center to ensure they have the tools and knowledge to thrive and grow. There’s also the halo effect,” where patrons of local libraries spend money at the adjacent businesses in the community.

For every dollar invested [in public libraries], between two dollars and ten dollars are returned, with the most common return being between three dollars and six dollars.”

California State Library

We want a world-class education at the price of – nothing

As the cost of formal post-secondary education skyrockets, our local libraries burst at the seams with free educational opportunities for all levels of learners. One of our recent collaborations brought together our local workforce board with the library to create a program for families to learn about upskilling for career growth.

In a national public opinion survey conducted for the American Library Association, over 90% of the respondents said they believe libraries are places of opportunity for education and self-help and offer free access to all (KRS Research Associates 2002). And it’s true! For example, San Diego Public Library’s Career On-Line High School continues to make academic and economic advancement a reality for many San Diegans each year.

While many of us are privileged to have a more formal education, we know that investing in infrastructure at our local libraries fuels an education system designed for everyone — and everyone realizes the benefits.

Libraries are the answer. What was the question?

It’s true. Libraries are a blueprint that the city can turn to for inspiration because they prove that they are the great equalizer when the services, staff, and programs offered within those structures are available. It’s why you’ll hear us clamor, push, prod, encourage and celebrate for city investments to be equal across all San Diego neighborhoods. When our world-class city invests in its world-class infrastructure, our communities shine from the library out. And that makes us so much more than the sum of our parts.

That makes us one heck of a sexy city.