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Every Little Bit Counts: Smaller Grants for Library Projects & Programs

By Elizabeth Evans

Library systems receive funding from a variety of sources, chief among them taxes from their surrounding community. But where can you look when those local dollars aren’t enough to make ends meet? Traditional State and Federal dollars such as those available through the E-Rate Funding Program or the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) can only take a library so far. As a result, increasingly more and more libraries are turning to non-traditional public funding sources and foundation grant opportunities to help cover the costs of new or expanding programs, professional development for staff members, and even book acquisition or distribution efforts.

For those libraries new to grantseeking, the American Library Association (ALA) and the Public Library Association (PLA) are great places to start one’s grantseeking journey. Both organizations are host to a number of competitive grant programs as well as award programs with cash prizes. For the sake of brevity, we won’t list each of their grant offerings here, but we encourage you to visit each organizations’ websites to explore what is available. Most of the programs are targeted towards public libraries, but a few are also available for school libraries.

Already familiar with all of the ALA and PLA opportunities? If this is the case, we recommend checking out your state’s Humanities Council. As libraries are often a hub for engaging their community members within the greater field of the humanities, the Humanities Council in many states encourages application submissions from public libraries. Often these opportunities are focused on community engagement efforts around regionally specific humanities topics. They support activities such as a seasonal lecture series, education activity nights for families, or even walking tours!

Beyond these popular library-supporting grantmakers though, it can sometimes be a challenge to track down additional funding options. Fortunately for you, we’ve scoured the depths of the internet to uncover some lesser known gems for your consideration as well. Whether you’re a public or school library, you’ll definitely want to check out the list below for a few of our favorite opportunities!

Opportunities Available to Public and School Libraries

Believe in Reading Grants for Literacy Programs – This funding targets literacy programs which have demonstrated previous success and serve populations that show “out of the ordinary needs”, such as geographic areas with low reading scores and high poverty levels. Grant awards range from $1,000 to $10,000. Applications are typically accepted starting February until funding runs out for the year. More information is available at: https://www.believeinreading.org/grant-guidelines/

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation – Grant programs are available to literacy supporting organizations in the 44 states where Dollar General stores are located. Major interests include helping adults learn to read, family literacy initiatives, summer reading programs for students, and support for English language learners. Grant awards and deadlines vary based on the priority area to which you apply. More information is available at: https://www.dgliteracy.org/grant-programs/

Ezra Jack Keats Public School and Public Libraries Mini-Grant Program – This funder is interested exclusively in organizations that provide creative, innovative programs that support or extend the Common Core Standards in literacy education. Programs may serve children from preschool to grade 12. Grant awards may be up to $500, and applications are typically due in March each year. More information is available at: https://www.ezra-jack-keats.org/section/ezra-jack-keats-mini-grant-program-for-public-libraries-public-schools/

First Book Market Place – This funder provides new books and educational resources - for free or at low cost - to programs serving children in need, from birth to age 18. Their purpose is to raise the quality of literacy education by making sure that students have access to the resources they need to be successful in school and in life. Note that this is not a traditional grant award. Selected applicants are provided with in-kind donations of materials, discounted purchasing options, and access to exclusive funding opportunities facilitated by First Book Marketplace. Applications are accepted throughout the year. More information is available at: https://www.fbmarketplace.org/register/

The Foundation for Rural Service Community Grant Program – The goal of this program is to support local efforts to build and sustain a high quality of life in rural America. Grant projects vary but are concentrated in four major areas including business, community and economic development, education, and applications of telecommunications. Grants range from $250 to $5,000 and applications are typically due in December each year. More information is available at: https://www.frs.org/programs/grant-program/community-grant

Library of Congress Surplus Books Program – The Library of Congress always has available surplus books which are not needed for the Library's own uses. The guiding principle behind the program is to build library collections across the nation. Interested participants must select materials in-person at the Library of Congress, however, if you are unable to be present you may designate a local individual to act on your behalf. Note that this is not a traditional grant award, rather an in-kind donation of materials. Applications are accepted throughout the year. More information is available at: http://www.loc.gov/acq/surplus.html

Lois Lenski Covey Foundation Bookmobile Grants – Funds go to organizations that operate a lending bookmobile that travels into neighborhoods populated by underserved youth. The grants are for purchasing books published for young people preschool through grade 8. Grants range from $500 to $3,000 and applications are typically due in September each year. More information is available at: https://www.loislenskicovey.org/bookmobile-grants/

Pilcrow Foundation Children’s Book Project – This foundation is interested in supporting libraries in rural areas, whether they are independent; under a Native American Tribal jurisdiction; or part of a county, regional, or cooperative system. School libraries are only eligible if they also serve as the community’s public library. Applicants may receive up to $1,200 towards the purchase of new, hardcover children’s books but must provide a 2-to-1 match and show proof of at least $200 to $400 in support from a local sponsor. Applications are due twice a year, typically in April and October. More information is available at: https://thepilcrowfoundation.org/childrens-book-project/

Just for Schools

  • Scholastic’s James Patterson Library Grant Program – These funds support any idea or concept that focuses on getting books into the hands of kids, creates a positive environment to foster a love of books and reading, and/or helps to bring books, reading, and literacy to the forefront of a community. Grants of $250 are available for veteran teachers and grants of $500 are available for new teachers. Applications are typically due in July each year. More information is available at: http://www.scholastic.com/pattersonpartnership/faq.htm

  • Snapdragon Book FoundationThis foundation exists to put books in the hands of kids in a time when many schools are transitioning to exclusively digital resources. Funds may be used towards the purchase of books, processing or cataloging fees from vendors, reference materials for student use, or magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Grants range from $2,500 to $10,000 and applications are typically due in February each year. More information is available at: http://snapdragonbookfoundation.org/

  • Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Amber Brown Grant – Each year, one school is awarded an all-expense-paid visit by a well-respected children’s author and illustrator. The school will also receive $250 stipend for the day’s activities and $250 worth of books by the visiting author/illustrator. Applications are typically due in April each year. More information is available at: https://www.scbwi.org/awards/grants/amber-brown-grant/
  • Granted some of the opportunities from this list may not be relevant to your specific needs. There are plenty of budget items that your library may be hurting for which these opportunities consider unallowable. In cases such as this, we encourage you to get creative. While being mindful of that ever popular “supplement, not supplant” rule, it is possible that your library could use some of these grant award monies to free up internal funding for purchases that wouldn’t be covered by the funder. Remember, every little bit counts!