New Benchmark helps Libraries Stay Certified


January 19, 2021
Celeste Bruno
Communications Director
1-800-952-7403 x208

At its January board meeting, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners took action to help libraries stay certified in the State Aid to Public Libraries Program this year. They adjusted the benchmark of what is considered a disproportionate library budget cut from 5% to 10%.

When library budget cuts occur and a library is not able to meet the Municipal Appropriations Requirement (MAR) of the state aid program, the library may apply for a MAR waiver. As part of the waiver process, the MBLC compares a library's budget reduction with the overall reduction in the municipal budget. In prior years, cuts with a difference of 5% or more were considered disproportionate.

"The MAR requirement has not changed,” said Mary Rose Quinn, Head of State Programs and Government Liaison at the MBLC. “Raising the benchmark is a way the board recognizes that it we’re going through a difficult time and gives more libraries the opportunity to stay certified this year.”

Disproportionate budget reductions are one factor in the MBLC’s consideration of whether or not to grant a MAR waiver. Those beyond the benchmark for disproportionate cuts indicate that the library has been targeted for budget reductions much greater than other municipal departments. Raising the benchmark to 10% means more libraries will have a chance to get a waiver of the MAR and stay certified in the State Aid to Public Libraries Program.

Municipalities with reductions greater than the 10% benchmark are required to appear at the February 4, 2021 MBLC board meeting to explain the cuts and describe future plans to fund the library. Receiving a MAR waiver also triggers the MBLC’s Five-Year Waiver Plan. Municipalities that cut their library budgets disproportionately in FY2021 and apply again for a MAR waiver in FY 2022 will need to provide additional budget planning documentation and present their year-two waiver application in person at the January 2022 Board Meeting. Waiver applicants this year under the 10% disproportionate benchmark will follow the year-one requirements of the Five-Year Waiver Plan.

During the February 4, 2021 meeting, Commissioners are scheduled to consider certification for libraries meeting all State Aid to Public Libraries Program requirements. They’ll also hear MAR waiver presentations from municipalities with reductions greater than the 10% benchmark. Municipalities requesting a waiver of the MAR that have not been disproportionately cut will also be reviewed by the Board but will not require a presentation. In March, commissioners will vote on MAR waivers.

The State Aid to Public Libraries program is vital to the operation of the successful statewide library system because it provides the basis for sharing library resources across the Commonwealth. Libraries that are certified in the state aid program work together to give residents access to more than 59 million items beyond what their local library is able to offer and there are many other benefits to state aid certification. The State Aid to Public Libraries Program is funded through state budget line 7000-9501.  

Participation in the State Aid to Public Libraries Program is voluntary. It is administered in accordance with statutory and regulatory minimum standards of free public library service. The program encourages municipalities to support and improve public library service, compensates for disparities among municipal funding capacities, and offsets the cost of circulating public library materials to residents across the state.

About MBLC

The Board of Library Commissioners ( is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.