Funding Opportunities Abound. Here’s Where to Find, Apply for, and Get Grants for Libraries.

Jump-start your grant search with these sources and success stories.


In an era of tight library budgets, grants can make the difference between standard and great programming. Librarians use grants for everything from dramatically expanding services to modestly boosting technology. The good news is that funding opportunities abound, whether that means pursuing a large, federally funded grant package or finding a few hundred dollars through local channels. Still, librarians need to know where to look for grants, and how to shape a compelling proposal, implement an initiative, and follow up effectively. Here’s what some librarians have dreamed up, and how they are following through on their winning proposals.

Stephanie Knop (left) was determined to reach underserved populations in the Orange County (NC) Public Library’s service area. Rural areas in the northern part of the county have limited public transportation and high poverty rates. In order to make an impact, Knop, a children’s outreach specialist, had to identify a significant funding source. In the fall of 2018, she applied for a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), administered by the State Library of North Carolina. She received $50,000 for her idea, which aligned with the funder’s goal of expanding access, Knop says.

The funds underwrote the Boxmobile, a traveling initiative that is “basically me, a computer, books, and crates to set up a pop-up library,” according to Knop. It operates monthly at community centers and during family nights or other school-based events in targeted areas. Knop also plans to offer new youth programming at the community centers to tie in with STEAM and literacy. She’s working with after-school coordinators at the schools to provide materials and programs for students using the service. “I want the services to reflect what we’re already doing at the library so that kids facing barriers...have the opportunity for these services in a comfortable and accessible environment,” she says. Knop is reaching out to parents and promoting the Boxmobile at social and health services organizations.

To prepare for the rigorous work required by the lengthy IMLS/LSTA grant application, Knop did in-depth research. She viewed webinars, consulted professional publications, and contacted a fellow librarian and LSTA grant recipient who “talked to me about the process and ways to ensure my proposal was competitive,” says Knop. “I wanted to show that without the funds, we would not be able to expand our outreach efforts beyond what we’re currently doing, which was very limited.”

Above: Third graders read to parents and children at the Lynnfield (MA) Public Library at a Books for Babies program, supported by a MassCue grant. Right: Third graders outside the library.
Photos courtesy of Alexandra Caram


Responding to a need

Youth and family services manager Jennifer Brown noticed that the kids coming in for Suffolk (VA) Public Library’s USDA-sponsored lunch program spent the whole day in the library. Brown envisioned a field trip program to take these students out of the neighborhood to experience more of the world around them.

She brought her idea to an annual meeting with the city’s grants coordinator and library administration. The coordinator shared information about the Association for Library Services to Children/Candlewick Light the Way grant, which felt like a stretch to Brown due to its outreach focus. “I knew this wasn’t traditional outreach,” she says. “I was very intentional” about defining the outreach aspect in the application. When the grant review panel called, Brown expected questions. Instead, they congratulated her.

During the summer of 2018, 163 youth visited a nearby aquarium, had ukulele lessons, went to the movies, and visited a beach. Brown tied in informal learning to each outing, including social skills to navigate these often new experiences. She also modeled a guardian permission structure used by the local parks and recreation department in order to transport minors off-site; this formed a relationship between the library and the kids’ families. Post-summer, “We still see these kids in the library, and now we have contact info if we need to reach out,” she says.

The program’s success impacted library governance: “Our Friends of the Library support our summer program, so while we may not get to do as many field trips next year, we have justification for sustainability,” she says. “Our grant created a strong pilot project.”


Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, PA, is getting cosmetic and structural upgrades, thanks to a $5,000 Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant matched by the local school district.
Photo courtesy of Dawn Rein

Augmenting a program

A presentation at MassCue’s (Massachusetts Computer Using Educators) annual conference inspired library media specialist Alexandra Caram at Summer Street School in Lynnfield, MA, to work with third grade teacher Nicole Kinney and launch a Books for Babies program in spring 2017. Students selected a favorite board book, practiced reading aloud 100 times to ensure fluency, and recorded a reading on CD that, along with a personal letter, they gave to families at the nearby Lynnfield Public Library’s toddler storytime. While the first year of Books for Babies was considered a success, Caram recognized that a few tech upgrades could improve it.

In 2018, Caram applied for and received a $1,500 MassCue grant. She used the funds to purchase additional iPad minis and small microphones for recording and a set of board books to give away at the year’s culminating storytime event. “The little microphones made a huge difference,” she says. “We record in a fairly open room where other noises get picked up. Now the students’ voices are much clearer.” More library iPads mean additional access for the school’s students, beyond those participating in Books for Babies, and allowed the families to bring books home along with the recordings. “Don’t be afraid to ask for things that seem small,” Caram recommends. “Grants are often seen as a solution for a huge need, but they don’t necessarily have to transform your work.”


Big box opportunities

Then again, they may be truly transformational. The library at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, PA, is getting a face-lift, thanks to a Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant. The Bristol Township School District matched the $5,000 award, providing school librarian Dawn Rein with $10,000 for much-needed structural and cosmetic changes. “Our engineering students created renderings of our future library,” says Rein, who will divide her large, open library into smaller zones. The funds went toward hiring an architect to begin work on plans. Rein also made immediate changes, such as cutting down shelving to increase sight lines and create a more attractive collection, and purchasing paint for a quick freshening up. “Kids are already noticing,” Rein says. “We’re inviting local businesses to see what our plans are to create community involvement and potentially receive more funding or donations.”

As a Title I school, Truman High has access to a district grants coordinator, who suggested the Toolbox grant. (Currently, however, it is invitation-only.) Rein appreciated the award’s small scale: “Those huge applications can be a little too much for my time and energy,” she says. “Start off small if you notice a need; a new chair here, a new smartboard there—it all adds up!”

Best Buy’s Community Grants are also available to libraries. “I was Googling for grant opportunities,” says Dan Major, former teen librarian and now adult and makerspace librarian with the Orion Township (MI) Public Library. “[I] stumbled across this. We have a Best Buy store in the necessary radius, so I went for it.” Major received $6,500 to spend within a year of receiving the award. The funds converted a computer lab into a new makerspace and covered all the equipment, including a Glowforge laser cutter, a Cricut Explore Air, a photo slide and film negatives scanner, and Adobe Creative Cloud software.

Best Buy staff also provided monthly afterschool programming with tech gadgets and STEM activities as part of the award. “Our goal in applying for the grant was to orient kids to new technology and train them on it,” says Major. “We want to use informal, connected learning experiences [that] let them have fun.” Major surveyed youth at the end of the grant cycle. At the start of the year, “one student viewed the library as very boring and wondered why he’d even visit,” he says. By the end, he was regularly bringing friends to library events.

Major also appreciated the grant’s manageable scope: “Sometimes it can cost money [in staff time] to receive money.” The library’s makerspace is still going strong, serving not just youth but all of the library’s users.


When the money finds you

Connecting with her local educational community paid off in a big way for Gretchen Kolderup, youth librarian at the St. Helens (OR) Public Library. Thanks to the Northwest STEM Hub, whose mission is to “create and elevate STEM opportunities through the region,” Kolderup received $20,000 at the start of 2019. While the money had to be spent by August, it has provided for three to four years of future programming, says Kolderup.

“I’m in a pretty small town, and I work really hard to be at the table for local meetings through the educational service district,” she says. Kolderup consistently promotes library offerings at meetings, and she brought flyers for her youth Make-It! events to one. After that, the Northwest STEM Hub director, Myronda Schiding, called Kolderup. Her library stood out as an organization that was doing strong STEM programming, and Schiding asked if Kolderup would be interested in receiving a grant.

The bulk of the award went to new supplies and equipment to expand and enhance Make It! programming. Among the improvements: “We were able to purchase a real green screen and got rid of our painted cardboard backdrop,” she says. The funds augmented library staffing by providing a teen intern, recruited from the local high school, for 100 salaried hours. “She helped plan and present events, doubling the amount of staff we had at Make It! programs,” Kolderup says. Funds also paid library support staff for additional hours, freeing up Kolderup from her reference desk duties to fully plan, prepare, and execute the grant. Now, Kolderup is developing a replicable curriculum for the Northwest STEM Hub to use throughout the organization’s network.

The grant has raised the library’s visibility in the community. “I presented on the project to our city council and let them know we got this award because we were recognized for the work we were already doing,” she says. “Now they have a better idea of what’s happening in the library.”

April Witteveen is a community librarian at Deschutes Public Library in Bend, OR.

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