Helping California Ensure Their Libraries’ Direction Is Consistent with Community Needs

Guest Post by PolicyMap and Meg DePriest, Library Programs Consultant, California State Library

The California State Library, in collaboration with Pacific Library Partnership, is now offering free access to PolicyMap as a resource for data and mapping for public library administrators and workers. California’s public libraries are essential institutions for fostering community progress and well-being. Trustworthy information from diverse yet reliable sources is crucial for making strategic decisions. Here’s a snapshot of how PolicyMap can elevate the offerings of public libraries in California for the betterment of communities:

  • Informing Strategic Planning: Libraries must understand communities/ evolving needs. PolicyMap’s geographic information offers insights into local demographics, assets, and needs, enabling libraries to align services and resources effectively with their communities. An easily accessible Community Profile Report can be produced for any area you draw on the map, a radius around your central library or branch, or by clicking the library district name, as in this example where we chose Solano County Library. Download a sample report.
PolicyMap portal map with an outline of the Solano County Library service area. (Data available for download in PolicyMap)
  • Simplifying Data Collection: Administrative reports, strategic plans, demographic reports, and grant reports, to name a few, may require extensive data collection from multiple sites. PolicyMap simplifies this work by providing the information you need one place, making data collection efficient and thorough. You can collect and download data from 150 disparate sources.
  • Enhancing Collection Management: Library administrators generate reports for their Boards, local and state governments, grantors and donors, the public and their staff, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which provides federal support for libraries. Awareness of your community ensures that your library collection resonates with the diverse needs and interests of the community.
  • Designing Targeted Community Programs: Libraries can harness local data from PolicyMap to curate collections and design programs that directly address and engage a community’s unique needs. In this example, we have clicked on the boundary for the Monterey Library District to download information about educational attainment with a list of public schools, including enrollment information, into a CSV spreadsheet, or you can view the data in the sidebar.
PolicyMap portal map with an outline of Monterey County Free Library service area and educational attainment. (Data available for download in PolicyMap)
  • Supporting Grant Applications: Using PolicyMap, librarians, grant writers, and board members can provide compelling evidence and impact statistics that grantors often seek, bolstering the quality of grant proposals. Information that identifies a gap or need in the community that the grant will address—such as demographic information about the community including age groups, access to fresh, healthy foods, educational attainment, languages spoken, and access to the internet or computers–is readily available and easily understandable with maps to support current information.
PolicyMap portal map with an outline of Ventura County Library service area showing low income tracts that are not close to grocery stores. (Data available for download in PolicyMap)
  • Facilitating Patron Research: Whether you’re supporting students working on projects, local entrepreneurs seeking market insights, or community activists wanting neighborhood information, having reference staff equipped with PolicyMap means patrons get in-depth maps, trend charts, and community profile reports.
  • Promoting Digital Equity and Ebook Projects: PolicyMap can be valuable in understanding digital divides, helping libraries design projects that address inequities, and ensuring all patrons have equal access to ebooks and other digital resources.
  • Accessing Information for Needs Assessments: Beyond just offering books and digital resources, libraries can use PolicyMap to conduct comprehensive needs assessments, providing in-depth information and helping position the library as a community anchor.
  • Inclusive Design with Communities: Designing programs with communities, rather than just for them, promote inclusion, equity, and belonging. Libraries can use PolicyMap to deeply understand community assets and needs and then begin to design in tandem with local aspirations.
  • Narrating the Library’s Story: A story well told can be transformative. Library directors can harness maps and information from PolicyMap to convey the library’s narrative, impact, and vision to boards and governing bodies, leading to stronger support and understanding.
  • Championing Inclusivity: Using PolicyMap, libraries can identify areas of marginalization or underrepresentation, ensuring library services and resources are crafted to be inclusive.

PolicyMap Empowers Libraries to Develop Offerings That Meet the Evolving Demands of the Neighborhoods They Serve

PolicyMap isn’t just a data tool. For libraries, it’s a means to deepen community connections, inform strategic decisions, and ensure every patron feels seen and served. By leveraging this information, libraries can be more adaptive, inclusive, and practical, cementing their role as indispensable community pillars.

Interested in using PolicyMap? Request an account here. Guidance for use is available on the platform. Training sessions are available twice a week; register here

PolicyMap is now available to all California public library staff as part of a statewide initiative by the California State Library and the Pacific Library Partnership to support libraries in making equity-based, data-driven decisions for community impact.

This project is supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.