The national library endowment and the two digital library systems it helps finance—one academic, one for public and K-12 libraries—should decide how much money goes for what.
But here is a starting point for discussion, nothing more:
Let’s say we are talking about $20B raised for the endowment in the first five years, with major donations continuing, aided by the Gates Giving Pledge. Perhaps in Year Five, $1.1B could be safely spent. Here is how we might divide up the money:
- $400 million for content and electronic and physical infrastructure. Current spending on public library content is only $1.2 billion. The $400 million could not only help buy many thousands of digital titles but also paper books for cash-strapped libraries, especially for young people. This is not a full solution—libraries will still require tax revenue. But it would help. The endowment could be a lifesaver for a tiny rural library in a low-income community that needed urgent repairs to its building but lacked the funds.
- $200 million for national outreach efforts to fire Americans up about both specific titles and books and libraries in general—and launch major family literacy and ebook literacy programs. As above, we are talking about far more than “digital.” If TV and social media spots increase the demand for paper library books, not just ebooks, that will be wonderful.
- $200 million for technology, targeted mainly at the poorest library districts.
- $300 million for the education, hiring, and professional development of librarians, especially school librarians working in poor districts. We need more librarians to come from the demographic sectors they will be serving, in terms of socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity. The money could also help bail out some small libraries in danger of closing or having to shorten their staff hours.
These figures include matching grants for local public and school libraries and both operating and capital expenditures.
For comparison’s sake, the entire Fiscal Year 2017 request for the Institute of Museum and Library Services was only $230 million, so the endowment could make a real impact. It would not replace IMLS. But it would vastly expand resources available. Significantly, we do not even know if IMLS will survive, since House Speaker Paul Ryan has called in the past for the agency’s defunding and his party now controls the White House as well as Congress.