California Budget to Increase Library Funding by More than $100 Million

On June 2 the California Senate and Assembly jointly issued a FY21–22 budget for the state’s public libraries totaling more than $500 million.

California State Capitol BuildingAt a time when many libraries are feeling the fiscal crunch of pandemic impacts, on June 2 the California Senate and Assembly jointly issued a FY21–22 budget for the state’s public libraries totaling more than $500 million. The historic funding package—the largest investment in California’s libraries in state history—includes a one-time increase to the California State Library (CSL) General Fund of $439 million earmarked for renovation and modernization, $41 million for various broadband connectivity projects, $15 million for English as a Second Language (ESL) within local library literacy programs, $5 million to provide grants for early learning and after school programs to library jurisdictions, and $3 million to support bookmobiles and vans. Ongoing funding—dollars that will be continuous year-to-year, unless adjusted in a future budget—includes $1 million for the alternative to interlibrary loan Zip Books program, $800,000 to support Lunch at the Library, and the restoration of $1.8 million to the California Library Services Act, bringing its baseline back up to $3.6 million.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the $100 billion state budget on July 12. Thanks to a track record of libraries stepping up during COVID-19, a strong advocacy push, and elected officials who understand the value libraries bring to their communities, this funding will provide for infrastructure and technology upgrades; the lending of devices such as Chromebooks, Wi-Fi, and hotspots; and support for a range of programs and outreach services.


While the state’s public libraries range from small, single-branch rural facilities to large systems such as the 86-branch LA County Library, the funding package is broad enough to cover a wide variety of needs. And having it specifically earmarked for libraries means that they aren’t in competition with police or fire departments for infrastructure. They will still need to rebuild operating and personnel budgets at the local level as local economies rebound, but this money will help keep library doors open and fill some of the gaps.

Half of California’s 1,130 library buildings are over 40 years old and have unaddressed needs for accessibility upgrades, high-speed internet connectivity, energy efficiency improvements, and seismic reinforcements. Although this state funding represents only 10 percent of the repairs and construction needed, “it’s going to be huge,” Jayanti Addleman, Hayward Public Library director of library services and president of the California Library Association (CLA) told LJ. “It doesn't cover everything California libraries need, but it means that so many more libraries will actually be able to move forward with the repairs, the rebuilding, just basic things. Some libraries are in really bad shape. Some aren't able to serve their communities because they're so small.”

Of the $439 million, $50 million will provide grants for local library improvements through an equity-focused matching infrastructure grant program—although if a library can show need and isn’t able to make the full match, CSL can waive the requirement.

In the governor’s original budget proposal, which provided only $50 million total for infrastructure work, funding was capped at $1 million per library, but California State Librarian Greg Lucas pushed for a maximum of $10 million as the base amount was enlarged. “If it’s a small rural library, or a small library that needs to do some repairs, $1 million is something,” said Addleman. “But If you're having to rebuild, or if you need to do a full seismic retrofit, then it makes a real difference.”

Much of the new allocation is one-time funding, which needs to be spent within two years; some ongoing projects, such as Zip Books and Lunch in the Library, will have a longer lifespan. And a few one-time line items are designed to be parceled out over three to five years, such as the $15 million to continue existing ESL tutoring and services, to avoid fiscal peaks and valleys tied to state revenue and enable libraries to provide services consistently.

Having the majority of funding capped so that it needs to be renewed each year is practical, given potential swings in the economy, Lucas told LJ. “I think, in the aggregate, that's a better way of doing it than saying, ‘Okay, 40 percent of the spending is on autopilot and we'll give it a cost of living increase every year, so we don't have to pay attention to it,’” he noted. “That's how you get an ugly surprise in January or May, a structure like that. And we've moved away from that.”


California libraries saw nearly 3.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, much of which was directly tied to pandemic recovery. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provided about $200 million for libraries nationwide; California received about $10 million. That money will help compensate for libraries’ budget losses at the local level, but the governor’s budget will help free up more dollars as libraries open the doors of their physical buildings while still continuing the popular online and curbside offerings created during the pandemic.

The stock market has been mostly strong in 2021, as have California’s tax revenues—driven largely by the state’s top five percent of earners—resulting in a state budget surplus of nearly $76 billion, which Newsom channeled into stimulus checks, renter assistance, school funding, and small business relief. That libraries are included in those civic investments has much to do with having allies at the state government level.

“Remember, the governor was the mayor of San Francisco,” said Lucas. “San Francisco has spent something like $250 million renovating and rebuilding [its] 28 branch libraries. So he's familiar with the value of investing in libraries and what they mean to communities and neighborhoods.”

The pandemic provided another demonstration of libraries’ value—the statewide Lunch in the Library program alone served 10,000 more meals in 2020, even though many branches were physically closed for much of that time, than in 2019. Libraries lent devices to students learning remotely, took part in contact tracing, assisted with voting and the 2020 Census, and provided testing and vaccination sites.

The new budget’s ESL funding is tied to another set of existing services. “Rather than say we're creating a new ESL program, here's what it's going to be, it's going to look like this, and these are the services you have to provide,” said Lucas, “we added a component to an existing local library literacy program that said you may include [ESL] services and one-on-one tutoring as part of the services you provide, and the state will help pay for it.”


Positive predisposition toward libraries didn’t mean advocates didn’t have their work cut out for them. “Everything I've seen in national surveys and work we've done in California shows that when you ask somebody, “What do you think about libraries?” about 75 percent of the people say, in varying degrees of excitement, ‘But we love libraries!”’ said Lucas. “The issue is getting people to think of libraries without having to jog their memory.”

Because CSL is not allowed to do advocacy work, CLA stepped up; the association has eight lobbyists, and members across the state made calls to elected officials and hashtagged legislators on social media. Addleman traveled to speak with Friends groups and foundations, encouraging them to speak out as well.

“I’m really grateful to all of our CLA members, and all of the libraries that wrote and made calls, because none of this would have happened without the really strong on the ground advocacy,” Addleman told LJ. “We made sure all our legislators and our local elected officials knew what [libraries] were doing.”

Not only did the advocates’ push result in strong provisions for libraries in the upcoming fiscal year and beyond, but they were able to get Lunch in the Library funding released in June, when students would need it most, rather than waiting for the beginning of the fiscal year in July.

As the rest of the state funding package rolls out, California libraries can begin to tend to their capital and other needs—offering some financial breathing room in a challenging time. The budget “is really an investment in our future,” said Addleman. “You start building your library, and then as the economy improves and you're getting staff back, it's not, ‘Okay, now I have staff, but I still don't have a building.’ That is the real beauty of the timing of this budget.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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