April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Early Learning Grants for Public Libraries | Resources

Toddler Reading at the LibraryLibraries are in prime positions to take advantage of President Obama’s recent call for an increase of funding and attention to early childhood education. Early learning has been an integral part of public libraries’ services to children for decades, and the recent increase of grant-funded programs can further extend children’s librarians’ reach into their communities. Wondering where to start? School Library Journal has compiled a list of grants for libraries seeking new ways to finance early learning initiatives, big and small.

Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) continues to be an avid supporter of the country’s museums and libraries in the area of early childhood learning. It has an extensive database of awards that institutions can apply to annually.

The National Leadership Grants for Libraries supports projects that address the challenges faced by the library field in innovative ways, and that have the potential to advance practice at a national level. Successful applications are programs that seek innovative responses to the challenge(s) identified in the proposals, and will have national impact. The deadline for the next award is February 01, 2014. The prizes range from $50,000-500,000.

For libraries planning to create a brand-new program that will focus on early learning, IMLS’s Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries could be the right opportunity. These smaller awards encourage libraries to try out and evaluate specific innovations in the ways they operate and the services they provide. Sparks Grants support the implementation of promising and groundbreaking new tools, products, services, or organizational practices. Successful proposals address problems, challenges, or needs of broad relevance to libraries. The 2013 grants were already awarded, but the 2014 guidelines will be made available approximately 90 days before the deadline. In the meantime, interested applicants should use the 2013 guidelines as a reference. The prizes range from $10,000 to $25,000.

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

Celebrating 20 years of helping individuals learn to read, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has continuously partnered with schools and libraries. In addition to its relationship with the American Library Association (ALA) and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) to provide aid to school libraries affected by natural disasters, the Foundation has also established Summer Reading and Youth Literacy grants.

The Youth Literacy award provides funding to schools, public libraries, and nonprofit organizations to help students who are below grade level or experiencing difficulty reading. For libraries wanting to create new or expand existing literacy programs, purchase new technology to support early literacy initiatives, or acquire materials for literacy programs, this grant is available to institutions that are located within 20 miles of a Dollar General store. The 2013 Youth Literacy Grant recipients will be announced on August 21, 2013, and the guidelines for the 2014 awards will be available early 2014.

The Summer Reading grants provide funding to help with the implementation or expansion of summer reading programs. Programs must target Pre-K through 12th grade students who are new readers, below grade level readers, or readers with learning disabilities. The 2013 Summer Reading Grant recipients have already been announced, but the 2014 applications will be available January 2014.

Target Foundation

For libraries that are trying to maintain and build up their storytimes, even while facing looming budget cuts, the Target Early Learning Reading Grant can make a world of a difference. Each award is $2,000, and applications are accepted between noon CST March 1 and noon CST April 30 of every year. The Target Foundation aims to fund programs that foster a love of reading and encourage young children, preschool through third grade, to read together with their families.

LEGO Children’s Fund

LEGOs are a childhood staple, and are also useful tools in early learning play. Now the company has created the LEGO Children’s Fund, which provides quarterly grants for programs, either in part or in total, with a special interest to early childhood education and development. Winning programs should also place a strong emphasis on creativity. Interested applicants must complete an eligibility quiz, and then be approved and invited to submit a grant proposal. There are no restrictions on grant amounts, but typical awards are between $500 and $5,000.

Better World Books

Better World Books LEAP Library grants are awarded to institutions that present “Game Changing” ideas which help advance a compelling literacy project. The proposed program should address the literacy needs of underserved populations in the community. Each year, there’s a total of $30,000 in funding available, and the maximum grant amount per project is $15,000. Interested libraries can download the application form on this page, complete it, and return it per the instructions on the form. The 2013 applications were due by April 2013, and the guidelines for next year’s award are to be determined.

Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

Named for the acclaimed author/illustrator, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation offers minigrants of $500 to public schools and public libraries for programs that support literacy and creativity in children. The projects don’t have to be related to Ezra Jack Keats’s books, but they are welcomed. For inspiration and better idea of the types of programs it has funded, check out the Foundation’s website. Applications for the minigrants are usually due by mid-March.

Libri Foundation

Rural libraries often have limited budgets and staff, and not enough funding for new books for their collection, or to give away for family libraries. The Libri Foundation is a nationwide non-profit organization which donates new, quality, hardcover children’s books to small, rural public libraries. Qualifying libraries should be in a rural area, have a limited operating budget, and an active children’s department. In the past the books have been used for storytelling; toddler, preschool, and after-school programs; summer reading; “book buddy” programs; and early childhood development programs. For more information and to apply by August 15 deadline, visit the website.

First Book

First Book is a non-profit organization that also provides free or discounted books to educators working with low-income families. To see if your library is eligible and to apply for these resources, complete the online registration form available on the site.

Whether at a national, state, or local level, each of these awards require a thorough understanding of your community’s needs, a detailed description of how the funds will be implemented, and most importantly, why should your institution be selected. Rachel Payne, Brooklyn Public Library’s coordinator of early childhood services, suggested that IMLS’s new report on the role of museums and libraries in early learning would be a good starting point for libraries that are applying early learning grants. Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners cites dozens of examples and 10 case studies, and highlights 10 key ways libraries and museums support children’s early education and summer learning.

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library JournalStronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.
Maker Workshop
In this two-week online course, you’ll create a maker program that aligns with your budget and community needs, with personal coaching from maker experts—from libraries and beyond—May 23 & June 6, 2018.