Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 2004

Introduction: Fund Raising for Public Access Computing

by Kara Hannigan, U.S. Library Program Training Manager, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Public libraries have seen firsthand the tremendous impact information technologies can have on the communities they serve; however, adding information technology to libraries has also required new resources and creativity for all librarians. Many are struggling to increase their capacity to provide access with limited funds, resources, technical support, or community partnerships. During the five years of implementing the U.S. Library Program, we had the opportunity to visit thousands of libraries and see many examples of how resourceful, savvy librarians found creative ways to bolster additional community support and secure the resources needed to sustain and expand public access computing. Collecting and sharing these examples was what led to the “Keeping Your Libraries Connected” preconference at the 2003 ALA Annual Conference in Toronto. Some of the stories we heard along the way – as well as some advice from innovative librarians we had the pleasure to work with – are shared below. While the needs and methods varied greatly, what seemed to be consistent among those successful at raising funds or garnering more resources was their knowing how to ASK.

Assess and Activate Attitudes

The successful “library developers”—although they often didn’t recognize themselves as such—were well aware of their library’s place in the community and in touch with people’s perceptions of the library. They didn’t assume people found value in the library’s programs and services, but instead tried to find out how well-versed their constituents were about the library. They routinely took the pulse of patrons, the public at large, as well as library staff and board members, to assess attitudes about the library.

“Get people to believe in the library and what it can offer them. Encourage and educate patrons and board members to be vocal advocates for library’s programming and its impact on their lives,” said Kathryn Stephanoff, Director of the Allentown Public Library in Pennsylvania. Through this approach, Kathryn has managed to secure $3-5 million annually in grants, gifts and donations to the library.

Select the Right Activity

The successful fund raisers we encountered also had a plan, sometimes documented and well developed by a team, and oftentimes, formulated in the mind of a dynamic library leader. These teams and leaders took the time to identify the library’s needs and match each need to an appropriate fund raising opportunity or request for resources. With a plan in place, including short and long term goals, they were able to answer the question, “Do we need a book sale or a bond issue?” Planning also helped them articulate needs to the community and then develop multiple opportunities for giving.

The Pequa Valley Public Library in Pennsylvania posts its budget breakdown, including donations, on its web page to illustrate how essential donations are in supporting the library’s services. Director Margie Parella uses a variety of fund raising strategies, such as an annual book sale and auction, an online form for submitting donations, and an annual postcard fund drive. In 2002, these strategies brought in $25,000 from a community of 18,000.

Know Your Economic Potential

The final tactic that successful library developers seemed to have in common when soliciting contributions was their ability to show the library’s financial contribution to the community. Does the library offer educational opportunities, computer training, or job search assistance that isn’t available elsewhere?

Red Feather Lakes Community Library (Colo.) Director Marilyn Coulter said in her community of less than 4,000, staying focused on educational programming that benefits the community has helped her leverage funding, including passing a mill levy to fund the library.

Others leverage the library’s relationship with the local business community. Do businesses gain customers from their proximity to the library, or does the library support businesses through its collection or reference services? As Douglas Public Library District (Colo.) Director James LaRue said, “Put some time into defining the business case for the library.”

LaRue’s successful story below follows the common theme for librarians seeking to garner additional resources: having a clear vision of the library’s needs, recognizing and articulating what economic value the library adds to the community, and seeking every opportunity to ASK.