Thursday, April 10, 2008

LSTA: allocating federal funds

I'm two days in Madison for the Spring meeting of Wisconsin's LSTA Advisory committee, which advises the Department of Public Instruction on allocation of federal grant funds. The annual appropriation of funds for Library Services and Technology Act, under Wisconsin's five year plan, has the committee reviewing DPI staff proposals and making recommendations for grant categories and amounts. Each state has its own allotment, based on population, and its own approved plan and distribution of the funds. The program overview of Wisconsin's LSTA info on the web notes:

The LSTA funds in the states grants program provide seed money for projects that improve library services throughout the United States. The program is designed to ensure that everyone can have the information resources they need for school, work, and daily living.

Funds in the LSTA state grants program can be used
  • to improve library services through the use of technology
  • to encourage libraries to establish consortia and share resources, and
  • to target library services to persons having difficulty using a library and to underserved urban and rural communities.
Some states may use all their federal funds for statewide programs, but I like the balance we strive for in Wisconsin. With a bit over $3,000,000 to allocate, some of it is designated to support statewide programs, some of it is allocated to library systems, and some is designated for competitive grants for systems and individual libraries. There's a list of this year's Wisconsin grants on the state website.

Naturally, any time you strive for balance, there will be strife in determining that balance. Grant funds supporting literacy projects, disability access, digitization and innovations in library automation fall short of needs and requests. As a public librarian, I appreciate state and system level support, but would like to see more of the funds designated as competitive grants to individual public libraries.

Wisconsin makes a good effort, bringing together a cross-section of the state library community in our Advisory Committee to debate allocations in the Spring and make grant recommendations in the fall. The final determination is in the hands of the elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction, but the opinions of many who volunteer to review grants and the Advisory Committee are given a lot of weight.

There are tremendous disagreements, and good professional arguments. This is my third and final year on the committee, and though it is difficult and intense, the time has flown by. I appreciate the work of state staff, especially Peg Branson and Terrie Howe, the LSTA coordinators in the past three years.

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