LibraryCity inspired mentions on The Atlantic magazine’s website and elsewhere with a call for a national digital library endowment for the United States. Endowment funds would come entirely or almost entirely from philanthropists, in the beginning at least, given the hostility of so many politicians toward new programs. The endowment would be just one source of library funding, but it could make a huge difference.
But first, some background for newcomers to these issues. Who says American schools are the only settings for “savage inequalities”? Mississippi spent just $1.42 per capita on public library books and other content in fiscal year 2010, according a report from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS); and Illinois, the champion, came in at a still-less-than-stunning $7.79.
Libraries in my own state, Virginia, birthplace of Thomas Jefferson, far more of a friend of books and libraries than are most of today’s politicians, weighed in at $3.77 per capita. The Old Dominion at least exceeded the minuscule 57 cents in the territory of Guam for that year and the 16 cents in FY 2009. Alas, the newer IMLS report failed to mention Puerto Rico. But the FY 2009 figure from the agency was 35 cents. The per-capita annual spending listed for the U.S. was $4.22. While inexact, the numbers are close enough. All in all, a paltry $1.257 billion was for content, approximately the $1.3 billion cost of just one terrorist-friendly complex for the Department of Defense. Pathetic.