Gates Global Libraries program is winding down: Time for a national digital library endowment to fill the vacuum

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GatesLib2Out of several billion a year in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, just tens of millions go for public libraries in the U.S. and overseas. And now comes word that the foundation is phasing out the Global Libraries program over the next three-five years.

Didn’t LibraryCity warn libraries against relying on Gates to be Carnegie II for them—at least not to the max—if past patterns held up? Sorry to be right. At the same time we’d hoped that Gates might change his mind and at least push for a national digital library endowment, to which many billionaires could contribute. Business and library professionals could run it while benefitting from advice from the corporate community. Just 400 billionaires in the U.S. are together worth $2 trillion, so, as noted earlier, we’re really talking about a crumb of a crumb.

An endowment could happen without the least involvement from Gates. But here’s one possibility. Gates could spin off Global Libraries and encourage Warren Buffett, his partner in philanthropy, to scale up from there and work toward the endowment and separate public and academic digital library systems. Buffett’s daughter, Susie, has long has a serious interest in K-12, and it is a scientific fact that even recreational reading can promote academic achievement. Among other things, the endowment and the related efforts could help school libraries in new ways and encourage digital-era family literacy.

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