Public libraries are an excellent resource for research, literacy education, and reading-oriented events. Most towns have one or share library services with other towns through a mobile library, and use of a public library is free to all residents who are willing to apply for a library card. In the United States especially, severe budget cuts have heavily impacted funding for these libraries, raising concerns in some areas over the survival of the locally based library.
There are several primary sources for library funding, starting with national funds which are distributed to states or provinces. These regions often offer additional funding when sending funds on to public libraries. Local municipalities also play an important role in providing funding to libraries, and most librarians apply for grants to supplement these funds. Finally, private donations help to sustain libraries; most libraries have an association of Friends of the Library who organize fund raising sales and pay annual dues to help maintain the library.
The proportions of funding depend on where the library is located. In general, the municipality provides the greatest percentage of funding for public libraries; often at least half, if not more. These funds are gathered from local taxes, library fines, parking tickets, and other tools used to generate revenue for a city or town. On the state and national level, funding is determined by budget allocation, and professional organizations of librarians usually heavily lobby for more library funding to purchase books, pay staff, expand libraries, create a bilingual collection, and provide other valuable support services.
Grants and private donations can also be used to provide a sizable amount of funding for public libraries, and some large libraries maintain a separate staff to increase the amount of funding that they can obtain through these sources. Grants include technology grants which allow libraries to install and upgrade computer systems, grants which focus on a particular topic such as science, fiction, children's books, or local history, and education grants which support locally based community efforts such as after school reading programs. Many private donors are pleased to support their local public libraries by donating funds or including the library in their wills, and libraries reward their high profile donors with treats like after hours visits or privileged access to special collections.
By combining multiple resources, enterprising librarians can keep their libraries useful, informative, and fun for browsers. When it comes to supporting public libraries, every little bit counts: if you cannot afford to donate to a local library, think about volunteering time to help shelve, lead after-school programs, or organize fund raisers. Being active with your public library is a very important way to contribute to your local community.