Rural Libraries Endowment Invests in New Mexico’s Small Communities

The Rural Libraries Endowment, establishedin 2019, has received a substantial boost that is proving to be instrumental in addressing the needs of many rural communities across New Mexico. Originally funded at $1 million, the fund now stands at $28 million, with the addition of $27 million added over four years.

entrance to Vista Grande Public Library, NM, with figures in the doorway and snow on the ground
Entrance to the Vista Grande Public Library, NM
Photo by Raquel Martínez

In the heart of New Mexico’s rural landscapes, smalltown libraries stand as vibrant hubs, nurturing communities through learning, connectivity, and shared experiences.

In 2019, New Mexico marked a significant milestone with the establishment of the Rural Libraries Endowment, an initiative designed to empower small and rural libraries by providing consistent monetary support to enhance and expand their services. Sponsored by Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernalillo County), New Mexico Senate Bill 264 created both an endowment, originally funded at $1 million, and a grant program fund. Every year the New Mexico State Library can take up to 5 percent of the year-end value of the Endowment fund, which is managed by the State Investment Council, and transfer it to the program fund to pay out grants for both established and budding libraries.

Fast forward to 2023: The Rural Libraries Endowment received a substantial boost that is proving to be instrumental in addressing the needs of many rural communities across New Mexico. Originally funded at $1 million, the fund now stands at $28 million, with the addition of $27 million added over four years; once the Department of Cultural Affairs added the additional funding to its annual budget request, libraries successfully advocated for the legislature to include it in the final budget. The New Mexico State Library is paying out annual grants from the funds to more than half of the public libraries in the state.

Julia Kelso, director of Vista Grande Public Library in El Dorado, NM, expressed optimism about the transformative impact of the new Rural Libraries Endowment, stating, “This will be life-changing money for us, but for the smallest libraries it is even beyond that.”

The Endowment is a testament to the collaborative spirit of the New Mexico Legislature and the New Mexico State Library, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, affirming a collective acknowledgement of the valuable role libraries play in all communities. Department Cabinet Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego is now requesting an additional $15 million in 2024 from the legislature, to bring the total Endowment to $43 million, and ensure the enduring presence of rural libraries for generations to come.

Small and rural libraries have unique capabilities to improve well-being in their communities, serving roles well beyond what many consider within the parameters of library work. With little stable funding, they are commonly staffed solely or primarily by volunteers. “We can’t afford to hire another staff person, and there’s only so much we can do with volunteers,” says Kelso.

Despite this, the state’s small and rural libraries do big things with limited resources and are critical to the resilience of their communities. Although New Mexico is the fifth-largest state in the US by land area, its population is just over 2,000,000 residents, and nearly half of its public and tribal libraries serve fewer than 3,000 people. During the pandemic, rural libraries played an important role in identifying the needs of individuals, from food to prescriptions, all the while making sure community members still had access to print books, ebooks, DVDs, technology, and up-to-date information.



man and woman, seated, reading periodicals in library with snowy vista outside large windows
Vista Grande Public Library serves as a community center for El Dorado, NM
Photo by Raquel Martínez

In 2023, New Mexico State Library’s Rural Libraries Endowment began paying out grants to rural libraries around the state, with 54 of the state’s 100 libraries currently eligible. Grants are starting small, at $2,600, but as the investment fund grows the goal will be to provide all nonprofit libraries—those run as 501c3s rather than as a division of their municipality—and libraries serving populations of under 3,000 with about $40,000 a year. Funds can be used for operational and capital needs, including salaries, books, electronic materials, furniture, and utility costs, as well as to upgrade and create library programs and services.

The New Mexico State Library understands how critical these libraries are to the strength and resilience of the community. They help make small towns wonderful places to live, supporting the education, economy, health, and well-being of their communities. “The Endowment tells us small and rural libraries that somebody notices us and cares about what we are doing,” affirmed Kelso.

Currently, the New Mexico State Library funds 19 tribal libraries, 16 nonprofit libraries, and 65 municipal libraries. Funding includes State Grants in Aid for operational costs (about $10,000 per year for a library with a single location) and bond funding for capital improvements (about $18,000 per year on average). Tribal libraries receive additional grants of about $5,500 per year for operational costs. New Mexico has a long tradition of serving rural residents in every part of the state, and still provides statewide bookmobile service through three remote offices, as well as Books by Mail service to residents without access to library or bookmobile services.



In addition to the rural libraries grants for established libraries, another new annual grant from endowment funds has been opened to help seed new libraries in communities where none exist, or to help expand emerging libraries that want to meet the state’s minimum standards to be eligible for regular state grants.

The recently released Establishing Libraries Grant, at up to $5,000, is a catalyst for communities that have libraries that don’t yet meet minimum standards, that were once state funded and wish to be again, or that have no tradition of library service beyond perhaps a once-a-month bookmobile visit.

“The Establishing Libraries Grants will help as seed money to supplement a community’s efforts as they seek to establish or expand a range of local library services,” Library Development Bureau Chief Dale Savage said. “The grants will provide the momentum communities need to create libraries that enrich the lives of their community members, and offer a pathway to establishing libraries that are eligible for other ongoing state funding.”

These grants carry the promise of significant impact. To apply for funds, these budding libraries are asked to meet with the State Library’s Library Development staff, provide a budget of eligible expenses, and demonstrate strong community support.



As beloved as the bookmobile and Books by Mail services are, the New Mexico State Library wants to see as many permanent libraries develop as possible. Libraries have value far beyond books—as meeting places, hubs for entrepreneurship and workforce development, critical early literacy support, and much more—that cannot be fully replicated with mobile service. The State Library hopes that this model will prove useful to other states seeking to support stronger, more resilient rural communities, and is happy to speak with other states about the process; contact with any questions.


Raquel Martínez is a librarian with the New Mexico State Library. Previously, she was the Head Librarian of the Taos Public Library in rural Northern New Mexico. As a lifelong Nuevo Mexicana, Raquel feels fortunate to be surrounded by books, the best chile in the world, and a community of people who share her passion for both. She can be reached at

Eli Guinnee is the State Librarian of New Mexico. He was formerly the director of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System and Patterson Library in western New York. He is Chair of Education and Engagement for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and is a member of the Connect New Mexico Broadband Council. His primary research area is the role of rural librarians in community systems. He can be reached at

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing