Libraries Are Working Together for All Americans

Public libraries are only possible because of funding at every level of government

Public library use is growing all across the United States. The federal Institute of Museums and Libraries (IMLS) reported in 2016 that “more than 171 million registered users, representing over half of the nearly 311 million Americans who lived within a public library service area, visited public libraries over 1.35 billion times in 2016”. Public libraries were used more than 1.3 BILLION times in that year alone. That’s a huge amount of library use in the age of Google, Facebook, smartphones, and 300 channels on TV.

The American Library Association (ALA) estimates that there are over 9,500 public libraries in the United States of America. But did you know that every state (as well as the District of Columbia and the United States territories such as Guam and Puerto Rico) has their own state library? These institutions support all the other libraries in that state as well as, oftentimes, their legislature and the state government. According to ALA, state libraries “typically maintains a collection of state publications, works by local authors, and local publications, such as newsletters”. In many places, the state library serves the blind and visually impaired with ‘talking book’ programs. In other places the state library maintains the Patent and Trademark library. Additionally, these state libraries — which are together known as the State Library Administrative Agencies or SLAAs — are responsible for administering federal funds to support statewide library initiatives, and to award grants to public, academic, research, school, or special libraries. The state libraries are at the center of helping to ensure that all of the libraries in your state are networked together to put limited tax dollars to maximum use. And with 1.3 billion visits in a year, that’s a good return on investment.

In addition to our state libraries, there is the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services For more than 50 years, IMLS — and those programs preceding it — have helped create and modernize libraries across America. Through the Grants to States Program, IMLS distributes over $150 million dollars to state libraries across more than 1,500 projects. These funds go directly to the state libraries and make up a large part of the funding they award to libraries within their home states. In this way, a federal agency provides direct funding support to the state level to be distributed according to the needs and desires of that state’s population, as influenced by their elected officials.

According to the IMLS, these “Grants to States” funds have been used “to meet the needs of children, parents, teenagers, adult learners, senior citizens, the unemployed, and the business community”, as well as making one of their statutory priorities “to address underserved communities and persons having difficulty using a library”. It is one of the best examples of a federal program really working in this country. State libraries work with community organizations to “provide a variety of services and programs, including access to electronic databases, computer instruction, homework centers, summer reading programs, digitization of special collections, access to e-books and adaptive technology, bookmobile service, and development of outreach programs to the underserved”. Additionally, through IMLS funding, the Grants to States program serves to meet the needs of the current and future library workforce across America.

Public libraries are only possible because of funding at every level of government, from IMLS funding and grants to state-level legislation, awards, and other programs, to local taxpayer support. The Grants to States program is far from the only way in which the IMLS supports America’s thriving library community, but it serves a clear reminder of the simple and perhaps surprising fact that, when you support your nation’s libraries, you are supporting your state and even your community libraries as well.