A Library Spurs Economic Development

The Fayetteville Public Library became a test bed for new technology in an effort to support local economic development.

ARTICLE | Jul 22, 2010
Solar panels on the roof of the Fayetteville Public Library.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. (CDT) on June 25, 2010, the Fayetteville Public Library became something more than a traditional library. As the solar panel array on its roof ramped up for the first time, the library became a test bed for new technology in an effort to support local economic development.


The 60 solar panels on the library’s roof will initially provide power to the library using a commercially available inverter. After six months of collecting production data, the library will test a highly efficient, state-of-the-art silicon carbide inverter developed by Arkansas Power Electronics International (APEI), a small Fayetteville-based company that specializes in developing technology for power electronics systems, electronic motor drives, and power electronics packaging.


In addition to the solar panels, there is also a kiosk in the library that displays real-time energy production data and provides educational information on solar power.


The Fayetteville Public Library Solar Test Bed Project is a partnership between the city of Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas, Arkansas Energy Office, APEI, BP Solar, and others. The purpose of the project is to create solar-generated power to reduce utility bills at the library; position Fayetteville as a leader in sustainability and an incubator for economic development; educate citizens in solar energy; and promote public-private partnerships.


The project is funded by an ICMA Public Library Innovations Grant. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ICMA awarded a total of $500,000 to nine jurisdictions in 2009 that developed partnerships with their public libraries in innovative ways to meet community needs.


“The city of Fayetteville is on the cutting edge of exposing the broad role that public libraries can play in responding to community priorities,” says Ron Carlee, ICMA chief operating officer and director of Strategic Initiatives.  “Their solar test bed project is clearly nontraditional for a library, but is important to their community.  This is exactly the type of innovation we hoped to demonstrate with the ICMA Public Library Innovation Grants program and our partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation."


The Fayetteville Public library is a “quasi” government entity. The mayor appoints the library board of trustees and 51% of library funding comes from the city general fund. The total library budget is approximately $3.7 million.


One of the outcomes of the solar test bed project has been a stronger relationship between the library and the mayor’s office. “Where we’ve been successful is learning how to take the library’s assets, and not think about them just in terms of books or in terms of information, but how they can connect people to the things necessary to build plans and implement strategies,” says chief of staff Don Marr, who serves as the city’s chief administrative officer.


In discussions with the business community, Fayetteville leaders learned that emerging businesses face three primary challenges when developing a new product: how to bring it from concept to being built, how to market it, and how to have a customer base to sell it. City officials responded by exploring ways city departments could use the products of local businesses to create an actual customer for them to use to go sell that product somewhere else.


The library stepped in to address this need with the solar test bed project. “The thing the library has been successful with is to say ‘what are the goals of city government, what are the goals of the mayor, and this is what we can do to help you accomplish that goal,’” says Marr. “And now we’re trying to take that relationship and leverage it to our private business community and internal city departments.”


The willingness of the library to become an active partner in addressing community needs has led Marr to become a vocal advocate of the library and view it as a core service.  “It is just as important as your water or your trash.”


Click here to learn more about the Fayetteville Public Library Solar Test Bed Project.


Visit www.icma.org/publiclibraries to learn about all of the ICMA Public Library Innovations Grant projects.


Join the conversation and discover resources about the role of libraries in our communities at the new ICMA Knowledge Network.

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