For many years Illinois has supported a grant system for public and school libraries. Each library has had the opportunity to apply for the various grants offered depending on the personal needs for their library. Other states do not do this, the money is allotted or handed down, with many of the "big" libraries receiving a priority. Illinois was unique in distributing tax money, local libraries could apply for grants under construction grants or to more traditional "book and programming" grants. This produced imaginative ways for libraries to expand, offer better programs for their patrons, plus fill their shelves with updated books, etc. It was a system that stimulated progress and kept Illionois libraries growing and being in the lead with technology and services.
Last fall a list of available grants were posted. The one that caught my eye was the READ: reading for education and development grant. Illinois was offering this grant for many reasons, the most significant were due to the findings of the National Endowment for the Arts report, "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America." The report stated there is a criticial decline in reading among all Americans. The study stated:
* "Less than half of the adult American population now reads ..."
* "The percentage of the U.S. adult population reading any book had declined by 7% over the last decade."
* "Literary reading is declining among all ages, but the steepest decline is in the youngest age groups."
As a librarian, I've noticed a decline in beginner readers coming in to check out books. I've chalked it up as more working moms not having time to stop by the library. But the READ grant was just what we needed at our library and so my colleague and I spent numerous hours coming up with a plan, a strategy on how to implement this grant. Filling out a grant takes time with no guarantee of being awarded the funds.
Illinois has been very gracious to small libraries and are extremely fair in distributing money. Our request was for $7,000.00; the range was up to $25,000.00. Our letter of intent had to be in the office of the Secretary of State by March 31, 2009. Our application, plus 15 copies had to arrive at the LSTA Grant office, Illinois State Library, Springfield, by 4:30 p.m. on May 1, 2009. We sighed in relief when we met all deadlines and our proposal was received intact. We were excited about our tentative new programs, especially the one we designated for reluctant readers: "ABC, Read with Me," a program where children would read to dogs, said to be very productive in exciting kids to read.
On August 13, our library received a letter from the Office of the Secretary of State. No, it was not a letter of congratulations, your grant has been chosen. This was a letter to all LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) Grant Applicants. All grants have been withdrawn. The money will be used to pay bills, and to continue paying for book deliveries from libraries borrowing from other libraries. No one will receive financial help. Illinois is facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, no one is immune to suffering from this debt.
So as good little librarians, we are expected to sit back and say nothing. Well, sorry, I can't be quiet about this. If libraries don't receive sufficient funds to stay up with technology and education, we have little chance of thriving. Libraries are supposed to offer and provide for people in their communities, especially for those who are not financially solvent. We will continue to serve our patrons as best we can; just don't expect too much. We're doing this on our own now.
Til next time ~
PS: If this worries you, share your concerns with state legislators.