Friday, July 5, 2013

Creative Ways of Funding Public Libraries in the Future

In today’s economy public libraries are taking big hits to their budgets, even though it is shown that they are needed now more than ever.  Public libraries provide many services needed by those who would otherwise not be able to afford them e.g. access to the internet.  This is why public libraries need to seek out new and creative ways to find revenue sources to pay for the services and materials needed to meet the demands of their communities.  Funding can come in many forms such as grants, donations, and partnerships to name a few.
Grants are a great way to fund programs, services, building improvements, and even build new libraries.  Anyone can apply for grants, and they come in all sizes and amounts.  Just like applying for grants for college, there is a lot of work that goes into just the application. The upside of grants is that you don’t have to pay them back; the downside is that there is a lot of paperwork involved.  Sometimes you need a dedicated staff person just to keep up with the all of the reports that are required.
Here in the state of California we passed a ballot measure in 2007 known as Proposition 14 the California Reading and Literacy Improvement and Public Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act of 2000.  Proposition 14 allowed public libraries to compete for over $350 million in grant money.  The grants awarded ranged anywhere between $50,000 and up to $20 million.  The grant money could be used to build new libraries or renovate older libraries, but could not be used for staffing, books, and services.  The San Diego Public library won two grants, one of which was $20 million for the New Central Library.  The San Diego Public Library Foundation website states the following:
Significant private donations coupled with designated funding that can only be used for this project, make building and operating the New Central Library within reach, without using one cent from the City of San Diego’s General Fund.
Funding for the $184.9 million project is secure with funds from the State Library, Centre City Development, the San Diego Unified School District and private donors. An additional $10 million in private funds has been donated to cover additional operating costs. (2013)
There are a few reasons I used San Diego’s New Central Library as an example.  The first is to show you that the grants are out there if you look for them. Second, to transition into the next topic of donations and last because the project was funded by outside sources and not by the City itself.  This means that this project would not have been built had we waited for the City to help fund it.  At the time we were seeing a decrease in the budget and hours.  Many had their doubts that it could be pulled off, but in the end it seems to have all worked out.  I am happy and proud to have been a part of the process and to see the project completed.  The new Central Library is scheduled to open this September
Another great revenue source is donations.  Donations also come in all sizes and amounts.  They can be used for anything the library needs, unless of course the money comes with strings attached.  Donations can help pay for materials, staffing, programs and even equipment.  If you are really lucky then you may even get a new library.  I have seen it happen many times, especially if you live in an affluent community e.g. La Jolla. Donations can also come in the form of naming rights. This is where you donate money towards an object, room or portion of the library, and in return a plaque with your name will be displayed. 
 Donations help out no matter how big or small.  They give the library the ability to have programs for kids, teens, and yes, even the adults.   According to the San Diego Public Library Foundation, together with the Friends of the Library, they have “raised more than $44 million from private sources during the past three fiscal years.” (2012)
Partnerships are another great way to provide services to your patrons.  By partnering with another group you share the costs to run the programs.  For example a library can partner with a bookstore to hold an authors series.  The library would help advertise and hold the event, while the bookstore would book the authors and would be able to sell books after the talk.  This becomes a win-win for each side.  The library is getting publicity and people are coming to the events, while the bookstore is make money off of the books they sell.
A library can partner with a media outlet e.g. KPBS to do a film series.  The library hosts the films which are provided by the media outlet.  This can actually be a win-win-win, the library wins by getting people in the doors, the media outlet wins by getting people to watch their films and the public wins by being able to get out and see a film for free.  Partnerships are a good way to get people involved and coming back to the library.
Another extreme measure to keep the doors open is to privatize the library. This option is not recommended but it is one that comes up every now and then.  In 2001, after considering the issues of outsourcing and privatization, ALA Council voted to adopt the following policy:
ALA affirms that publicly funded libraries should remain directly accountable to the Public they serve. Therefore, the ALA opposes the shifting of policymaking and management oversight of library services for the public to the private for-profit sector. (2011)
This option should only be considered if all other options have been exhausted.
To sum it up, there are many sources of funding out there to help boost a public library’s budget.  The chances of public libraries funding to increase is not looking up at this time.  Possibly as the economy gets better so will the budgets.  Until then we will need to think of creative ways to keep the doors open.


American Library Association. (2011). About the Project. Retrieved from

San Diego Library Foundation. (2013). Keeping Public Libraries Public: A Checklist for Communities Considering Privatization of Public Libraries. Retrieved from

San Diego Library Foundation. (2012). Library Fund Raising Top Accomplishments: How private contributions supported the Library in FY2011. Retrieved from


  1. I am in complete agreement with Shannon. Libraries across the country are seeing their budgets shrink and are looking for creative ways to bolster funds. While grants may have been a help in the past, in the future grants will become critical to providing services and new products. A lot of times grants are easier to get than we thought.

    I think about my own area and some of the grants local public libraries have won. Like most cities and regional areas, my Michigan county has a foundation for supporting non-profits and community based organizations—The Tuscola County Community Foundation (2013). This is a foundation which supports organizations like libraries for years and will continue to do so as long as funding sources last. These support special projects and services which may otherwise be unattainable through normal funding.

    And speaking of products and services, a local library near me received equipment to teach computer classes (“Library Receives Grant,” 2013), and another nearby library gained money from the same organization to greatly enhance their circulation software (Tucker, 2011). Both of these libraries see these their projects as critical and worthy enough to gain one-time-only funds; without the funding, their new products may not have been attainable. As we move to the future, we will see more and more libraries looking for help in budgeting discrepancies.


    Library receives grant. (n.d.). Retrieved from

    Tucker, S. (2011, November 25). Library named grant recipient. Tuscola County Advertiser. Retrieved from

    Tuscola County Community Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from

  2. I agree, grants are a very important part of funding and will continue to be important in the future as library budgets continue to cut.

  3. I really like the idea of grant writing because not only is it great for funding programs, but it also challenges librarians to come up with new, creative, and desirable ideas in order to win the grant! Grants encourage these new ideas and innovative programs, and I know they are a lot of work, but good things always come from hard work. :)