State Aid to Public Libraries Program Reviewed, July 2007(v.10,n.4)

At their August 2004 Board meeting in Canton, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners first discussed moving forward with a strategic planning process. Subsequent discussions took place at the January 2005 Board meeting. At the April 2005 Board meeting the strategic planning process was approved to proceed in three phases: (1) defining and selecting key issues, (2) developing specific goals and objectives for the key issues, and (3) implementing the goals and objectives.

After a series of meetings with members of the library community a summary description of each key issue was presented at the December 2005 Board meeting. The State Aid key issue was reported as follows: “This key issue includes all of the factors that go into ‘State Aid’ funding and its process. Multiple comments were received about the desirability of reviewing the current minimum requirements and waiver process. However, many people also believed that the time has come for a general review of the State Aid process and suggested a ‘starting from scratch’ approach to define a next generation State Aid program rather than tweaking the existing program (since that has proved difficult in the past). Suggestions included a 3-tier approach that may make the current State Aid process more understandable and workable. This included programs best summarized as ‘Libraries in Need’ (for those libraries who need help to meet whatever standards are in place), ‘Libraries Meeting the Minimum Standards’, and ‘Libraries Far Exceeding the Minimum Standards’ (related to the previous work done on the ‘Beyond The Basics’ program).”

Board staff met with commissioners to prepare a change, time-line and committee composition for a task force to develop a next generation state aid program for public libraries in Massachusetts.  On June 1, 2006, The Board of Library Commissioners approved the charge, time-line and composition of the State Aid Review committee. 

Charge: The committee will assess the role of a state aid program in improving library services through review of the current state aid program and review of approaches in other states, and will develop a next generation program for recommendation to the Board of Library Commissioners. 

On July 13 and August 3, 2006, the Board approved 30 appointments to the State Aid Review Committee.  The committee was composed of 15 public library directors, 5 public library trustees, one regional library administrator, one network administrator, two public library advocates, three members of the Board of Library Commissioners and three MBLC staff.  This group met twelve times between September 8, 2006 and June 29, 2007. 

A purpose statement was developed by the group and used as the basis for the work that ensued. 

The purpose of the State Aid to Public Libraries program is to encourage municipalities to support public libraries that meet the evolving needs of resident; to encourage resource sharing and collaboration among libraries; and to provide equal access to appropriate public library services for all residents of the Commonwealth.

During the intial meetings the Committee discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the current state aid program, reviewed state aid program in other states and drafted a purpose for a new State Aid to Public Libraries Program.

 The Committee began its work crafting a new state aid program by dividing into three sub-groups that discussed elements of a new program. After initial discussions centering around a local funding requirement, working groups were formed to complete specific tasks between meetings of the full committee.

The Values, Local Funding, and Communities in Need working groups presented their work to the full committee for comment leading to agreeement on each piece by all of the committee members.

The final piece of the state aid program structure was developed by the Points for Library Service Working Group. As the full committee neared completion of its work, it recognized that more time was needed to more fully develop the piece that became known as Step III or Library Service Measures.  The Step III working group met and worked on this aspect of the state aid program.

At the same time that the Step III working group was developing the final piece of the state aid program, the Editorial group was drafting the report and recommendations for the full committee to review at their final meeting on June 29, 2007. After the final meeting, the report with recommendations was edited for presentation to the Board of Library Commissioners. 

The New State Aid Program

The new State Aid program is conceived as a series of 3 steps or building blocks with measurable requirements and rewards at each step. Step 1 focuses on a minimum level of per capita municipal support for the library and offers municipalities a safety net for those not initially meeting this minimum.  Step 2 looks at a series of standards.  Step 3 looks at whether library services in 5 categories have reached beyond minimums and improved over the prior year.

The new State Aid program relies on a system of incentives and rewards for services provided and for improved service levels. It affirms most of the current standards and the local maintenance of effort requirement while placing these familiar elements in a context that eliminates the need for waivers and accommodation.  Instead, the community and its library are offered predictable ways to gain state aid funding by meeting a new minimum municipal funding level, participating in resource sharing, and showing measured improvement in 5 service areas.  Finally, a Communities in Need program will assist municipalities that do not provide a minimum per capita level of support by helping them achieve that minimum while staying within the state aid program.

A minimum of $20,000,000 in State Aid to Public Libraries is required to create the system of incentives and rewards being proposed. That funding level assures that funds are available to recognize the cost of resource sharing, to provide service improvement funding and to implement the Communities in Need program.

Next Steps

The final report was presented to the Board at their July 12, 2007, meeting.  The Board directed staff to present the Final Report to the library community for feedback and comments.  During the second week of August, there will be an initial set of three meetings to which a limited number of library directors have been invited.  After the input from these meetings has been compiled and presented to the Board, another set of open meetings is planned for September and October.  The Library community will be notified of these meetings.

To view the complete Final Report and the minutes of the committee meetings please visit the agency website.

This Web site, and other programs of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, is funded in part with funds from the
Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency that fosters innovation, leadership and a lifetime of learning.
Page last updated on 12/4/2007