Alumna Penny Hummel Completes Groundbreaking Assessment of Public Libraries in Oregon


Alumna Penny Hummel (MLIS 2007) recently completed a groundbreaking needs assessment of public libraries in Oregon, which revealed a lack of state funding—much less than the national average.

The Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) knew just where to turn for a thorough examination of the state’s public libraries. As a former library marketing manager in Portland, Oregon, a former library director in Canby, Oregon, and a graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at the acclaimed San José State University School of Information (iSchool), Penny Hummel (MLIS 2007) had the skills and the experience necessary to conduct the first-ever needs assessment of Oregon’s public libraries. Hummel’s project, which the OCF funded with the support of two donors, sought to discover the roles the state’s public libraries play in their communities, the challenges they face in serving these roles, and the best ways for philanthropic organizations to support public libraries.

“In many ways, what this study does is synthesize a lot of data available in disparate places, or which might be well known in library land but less so to the philanthropic community,” explained Hummel. Over the course of the study, Hummel learned that public libraries in Oregon receive much less state funding than the national average, and therefore are more dependent on local funding sources. “This [data] provides some important context for discussing how to best support Oregon’s public libraries with private dollars—particularly since Oregon libraries enjoy the highest circulation per capita in the country,” said Hummel. “Our libraries are well used but local funding varies dramatically from community to community.”

Hummel was also able to demonstrate what many information professionals believe to be true: Public libraries are doing essential work in their communities such as promoting literacy, helping develop the local workforce, and encouraging civic engagement. “This point, of course, has also been made in a variety of recent national studies,” noted Hummel, “but our data was based directly on feedback from 66% of Oregon’s library directors, which makes it both local and pretty comprehensive.”

Studies such as Hummel’s are essential to helping potential donors understand how they might partner with public libraries to help further the goals they have for their communities. “To those of us who work in the library profession,” remarked Hummel, “it is obvious that public libraries are about so much more than books, but since books are our ubiquitous brand, it’s always a plus to help people outside of the profession to recognize the breadth of what public libraries are accomplishing each day, and how much more public libraries could do with additional support.” Now that the study is completed, the OCF will commence work with potential donors to identify the best paths for future investment.   

For Hummel, working as a consultant and conducting groundbreaking studies like the needs assessment of Oregon’s public libraries allows her to bring her education, skills, and experiences full circle. “My practice focuses in four areas relating to public libraries: marketing, fundraising, organizational development, and facilities planning,” she explained. “My approach to this work is informed by the spectrum of public libraries I’ve worked with—both a multi branch, metropolitan system, and a rural, small town library.”

Just two years after starting her consulting business, Hummel has worked with 15 clients in five different states, and the work is not slowing down. “One of my current projects I’m excited about is in Yolo, California, where I’m part of an architectural team planning a new public library,” said Hummel. “I have also been contacted by a state library interested in conducting research similar to the OCF report.’’

The variety of the projects that arise continues to excite Hummel. “One of the most fun and interesting things about being a consultant is that you never know what new work is around the bend,” she said.  “I enjoy the process of discovery and learning that comes with each project I do.”

The full report of Hummel’s needs assessment of Oregon’s public libraries is available on the OCF website.

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