You Can Make a Difference:
Where Have All the American Library Association Scholarships Gone?
Public Libraries are more essential today than they were even ten years ago. They perform services far beyond those of lending books, providing after-school programs and constructive events for children and adults that are critical to communities.
Librarians and media specialists aren’t just born anymore than brain surgeons are—they are dedicated professionals educated in resources and the management of media. They are lovers of books, knowledge, and wisdom.
We all know that education isn’t cheap and that to open doors we need open minds and wallets. Like so many today, my family lived frugally in financial straits. We all—Mom, Dad, and I—frequented the library. Getting my library card was a bigger deal to me than getting a driver’s license. The library was the great equalizer—where anyone could be anyone and anything because we all held the power of the library card.
Today, libraries serve many purposes for many people. They are the place to get tax forms, provide after-school programs for latchkey kids, offer a meeting place for public groups, computer access and information, as well as access to books and so much more.
Librarians’ skills are more diverse than ever—they must be to meet the demands of their expanding roles in the community and the broad-based needs of the public. The pulse of the community is found within the library walls.
All of this and more is why I went to the American Library Association’s website this morning. I happened upon its Scholarship page. Here’s the listing I found there:
ALA Century Scholarship (Scholarships)
Bound to Stay Bound Books Scholarship (Scholarships)
Diana V. Braddom FRFDS Scholarship (HISTORICAL) (Scholarships)
David H. Clift Scholarship (Scholarships)
Tom and Roberta Drewes Scholarship (Scholarships)
Mary V. Gaver Scholarship (Scholarships)
Grolier-Americana Scholarship Award (HISTORICAL) (Scholarships)
Emily Dean Heilman Award (Scholarships)
Miriam L. Hornback Scholarship (Scholarships)
Christopher Hoy/ERT Scholarship (Scholarships)
Christian Larew Memorial Scholarship (Scholarships)
Tony B. Leisner Scholarship (Scholarships)
Peter Lyman Memorial/SAGE Scholarship in New Media (Scholarships)
Cicely Phippen Marks Scholarship (HISTORICAL) (Scholarships)
Marshall Cavendish Scholarship (HISTORICAL) (Scholarships)
Frederic G. MELCHER Scholarship (Scholarships)
Robert L. Oakley Memorial Scholarship (Scholarships)
ProQuest Scholarship (HISTORICAL) (Scholarships)
- David Rozkuszka Scholarship (Scholarships)
School Librarians’ Workshop Scholarship (HISTORICAL) (Scholarships)
Spectrum Doctoral Fellowship (HISTORICAL) (Scholarships)
Spectrum Scholarship (Scholarships)
e-Learning Scholarships (Scholarships)
At first, I was excited to see such a respectable listing. But as I drilled down to look at the individual scholarships, I saw that many of them, (largely to train the next generation of librarians or to supplement the budgets of existing libraries), are no longer being funded.
Some fell away as early as 2005, and others stopped being funded around 2012. If you’ll recall, that’s when libraries suffered huge fiscal cutbacks and so many were forced to close and to cut staff, which was incredibly difficult on libraries and staff because, as money grew tighter, the demand for additional services at all libraries—including those in schools—increased.
You might be under the misconception that school libraries aren’t that significant. If so, you should know that schools house a huge majority of libraries.
Where It Began
In 1778, Benjamin Franklin was asked to donate a bell for a church steeple. Instead, he donated books, saying people needed sense more than they needed sound. For the record, he wasn’t speaking against church only saying that people need knowledge and wisdom more than they need to hear a bell ring.
That book donation was the humble beginning of the library—a donated collection of books that all were free to read and use. Then, later, along came Carnegie, and he built a lot of them—provided towns that wanted his help also helped themselves. That was a key rule of Mr. Carnegie’s. He’d gladly donate, but the people who would benefit had to do their part so they valued what was done. (Obviously, he understood what Franklin did about the power of knowledge and wisdom.)
In 2014, we have 120,096 public libraries across the nation—mostly in schools. (http://www.ala.org/tools/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet01).
Reading that, and knowing what’s happening to school budgets and funding, led me to the 2011 Funding Survey of Public Libraries in the United States. What an eye-opener! Huge changes. Huge. Read the report at: http://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/PLS2011.pdf
If you do, you’ll see the significance in my point, which is this: At a time when informational is critical, jobs are scarce, and people are reliant on libraries to perform more services with fewer resources, libraries need more scholarships and funding, not less.
Yet they rank low on state and county budgets and are routinely deemed non-essential services. Frankly, I can’t see that. But it is what it is, and today, that’s the way it is. Our states and counties, not the federal government, provide the bulk of library funding, which means our libraries are really struggling.
(Can some wise librarian tell me if the National Endowment of Arts offers public libraries grants like they do for some TV shows? Not PBS or news, but sitcom, series-type shows?) Taxpayers fund that, so I’d like to know the answer.
Back to my point. We all understand struggling. Most of us have had to struggle at points in our lives, if not for our entire lives.
Funding our libraries and its scholarships is something we, the public who use and benefit from them, can do something about. I’m not suggesting that one person can do everything. We are a society of many needs. But we can all do something.
So why don’t we?
Odds are we don’t know about the need to do something, or we see the need as so great, we can’t make a difference. That makes us feel overwhelmed and so we do nothing. There is middle ground here, and we need to find it, stand on it, and build on it.
We know about the need now. And while that need is great, we can make a difference in small ways—one step at a time. Many feet make for many steps, and combined, many steps make great strides.
Here are some suggestions:
What We Can Do
- For those who can: stop what you’re doing and pull out your checkbook.
- If you can afford to fund one of the scholarships at the American Library Association no longer funded, do it. Fund a new one. We need smart, well-educated librarians!
- If you can’t do that, send a check to your local library. Any amount you send will be welcome and useful. Send $100. Send $25 or even $5.
- If you can’t spare that, then skip that latte on the way to work, and send what you would have spent on it to your local library.
- Collect pennies in a jar and when it’s full, convert it and donate it.
- Add a penny to whatever you donate. Why? To signal the librarian she or he isn’t alone. That you recognize s/he is in for a penny, in for a pound—all in—in service to your community—and you are aware of and appreciate those efforts and that dedication.
We all need to know what we do makes a difference. That someone else sees value in our efforts. That the people we are trying to serve appreciate it. Pennies matter. For what they do when they add up, and for what they symbolize.
- If you can’t afford even a small donation, donate your time. Volunteer to work at your local library a few hours a week, a month. Do what you can do to assure services continue.
This little article began as a call to fund scholarships to train librarians. But the deeper I got into the financials the more clear the picture became that our librarians are strapped for resources and this need stretches thin their already stressed demands to meet our public needs.
Local Libraries don’t generally receive huge grants. As stated, they are mostly state-funded and states’ budgets are currently crippled by federal and state mandates in areas deemed essential. If we want quality services available to all of us, if we want top-notch librarians and libraries to continue to be the great knowledge equalizers that we know they have been and can be, then we have to take a tip from Franklin and Carnegie and help them.
We have to give libraries what they need so they can give us what we need.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Somebody’s got to pay for it. Do what you can—and add that penny.
It—and you—can make a difference.
Where to Donate
Find a local library. (Top Right, enter your Zip Code.)