LibraryCity’s national digital library endowment proposal makes the Chronicle of Philanthropy

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What to do now that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is phasing out its global libraries initiative?

Rebecca T. Miller, editorial director of Library Journal  and School Library Journal, recalls the foundation’s achievements and ponders the future in a thoughtful LJ commentary dated yesterday.

Ms. Miller, maybe fate is telling us something. Today the Chronicle of Philanthropy is carrying my call for a national digital library endowment—with separate public and academic systems, so the needs of Main Street libraries don’t get lost in the shuffle. The university-dominated DPLA could be the start of the academic system.

Significantly, the Chronicle is the New York Times of philanthropy. Bill Gates himself just might be reading the LibraryCity commentary. Now I hope LJ can follow up with an editorial in support of the endowment concept. A long FAQ is here.

Tax money not enough

Like Ms. Miller, I believe that philanthropy still has a place in the library world. Reliance on local tax money is not enough, as shown in The Sad Reasons why Amazon’s #1 reading city doesn’t belong on the list. My hometown is spending less than $2.60 per capita on library books and other content, a disgrace even compared to the pathetic national norm of around $4.

And don’t expect remedies from Congress.

Chair Paul Ryan of the House Budget Committee even wants to abolish the Institute of Library and Museum Services. I doubt he’ll succeed—others haven’t in the past. But the future could be different.

Simply put, it would be absolutely reckless of librarians and educators not to work toward an endowment, which would not only help provide content but also aid in the hiring and professional development of such people as school librarians and family literacy workers.

A number of possible backers

From Warren Buffett to Larry Ellison and less-famous possibilities such as David Rubenstein (photo below), there are a number of possible backers, and perhaps the White House itself can take an interest.

David_M._Rubenstein_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_Davos_2009 (1)In the Chronicle I mentioned “the 100 philanthropy-minded heirs who attended a White House gathering in late March… Jamie Johnson, the filmmaker and pharmaceutical heir, attended. The Obama administration, as he reported in the New York Times, sought to ‘find common ground between the public sector and the so-called next-generation philanthropists, many of whom stand to inherit billions in private wealth.’ A national digital library endowment would mean a chance for the heirs and their parents to stand on that ‘common ground’ and be new-style Carnegies in the iPad-and-Nexus era.”

LibraryCity’s vision is that the endowment and the two national digital  library systems could start as nonprofits for maximum flexibility and evolve into government agencies for maximum transparency and responsiveness to the needs of ordinary Americans.  But even then people such as Buffett could not only be backers but also valued advisors.

Yes, this could be a group effort like the Gates Giving Pledge, and oh, how the billionaires would get their money’s worth!  Because libraries “are so connected to communities,” Ms. Miller reminds us, “libraries are an excellent avenue to make a dramatic difference through philanthropy.” Exactly!

(Rubenstein photo is Creative Commons-licensed.)

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