It comes as new real surprise to anyone that libraries need all the help they can get. With news of severe financial cutbacks around the country that have resulted in the layoffs of library personnel, the dramatic slashing of hours of operation, and even the outright closings of numerous branches, public libraries are facing a monumental identity and ability crisis.
But LibraryCity.org‘s David H. Rothman has issued a request for the establishment of a library endowment to fill in the gaps, calling on the US’s wealthiest citizens to answer the fiscal call to save libraries.
“It’s just a dream right now,” Rothman said of the idea for the endowment, “but it rose partly out of my experiences writing about the DPLA at the start.”
The DPLA that Rothman referred to is the Digital Public Library of America, and initiative that was met with widespread accolades and more than a few grant dollars to make it a reality. Unfortunately, this so-called entity is not actually the same as a public library in the way that citizens envision one. Rather, its focus is on the digitization and open access to historical and archival documents, making it a great tool for researchers and academic institutions, but of little day-to-day importance in the lives of typical public library patrons. In fact, according to Jim Duncan, executive director of the Colorado Library Consortium, the Chief Officers of State Library Associations has passed a resolution requesting that the word “public” be stripped from the name of the DPLA as that is not its function.
The endowment that Rothman has envisioned would not only create a side-by-side entity like the DPLA that actually served the digital content needs of the typical reader, but also still helped libraries keep their doors open as vital parts of their communities. And with a Forbes’ estimate that 400 of the richest people in the US are worth more than $2 trillion, and public library spending on content as of 2010 was only $1.3 million, Rothman quantifies, “What we’re talking about is a crumb of a crumb.”
“Why not come up with a way to bring in money from the super-rich but at the same time make it a government agency that is transparent. It looks as if the composition of Congress is not going to change to a bunch of people open to social expansion and social programs. What we need to do is go outside the usual government funding.”
As for whether or not Rothman can get the needed financial support for this endowment remains to be seen, but as he stated, “What’s the harm in asking?”