edWeekEndowmentLibraryCity’s proposal for a national digital library endowment has now made the leading publication in the field of K-12 education—not just philanthropy (Chronicle of Philanthropy) and libraries (Library Journal).

Education Week has published a 1,300-word essay with a home-page link.

Also to be reproduced in the print edition, the article is a collaboration between me and Jim Duncan, executive director of the Colorado Library Consortium. Jim is offering his personal views.

The beginning:

As a boy, Warren Buffett is said to have read book after book on money.

Thankfully, he did not live in Los Angeles and rely on the library at Roy Romer Middle School. Students there couldn’t check out a Buffett biography, or any other title, when a Los Angeles Times reporter dropped by last year. The reason? The library at the time was locked up because of staff cuts.

Wait. It gets worse. Romer Middle School has lots of company throughout the United States in its school library horrors. One hundred and seventy-six certified librarians worked in the Philadelphia city schools in 1991. Today, the count is just 11 in the 218-school district.

But Mr. Buffett and other members of the super-rich could at least help, through a national digital-library endowment, funded by interested billionaires. The endowment could help pay for librarians, e-books, other content, and related technology for school and public libraries. It could especially target high-poverty areas and promote the hiring and professional development of minority librarians—while also nurturing the love of literature for the new America.

Of course: not every billionaire will give. But the 400 richest Americans are together worth more than $2 trillion. Just a small fraction of the 400 could come up the money to fund an endowment with assets of $15-$20 billion in five years. America’s public libraries today can spend only around $1.2 billion a year on content. The endowment would hardly end our libraries’ fiscal problems. But it would help in strategic ways.

Now—if policymakers and enlightened members of the super rich will only follow up! In printing the proposal, the three publications have not offered endorsements. But they are saying that the plan is worth contemplating and discussing. May the dialog begin!


  1. My main concern with a billionaire funded digital library endowment is that it leads to more justifications to cut government funding in this area because it’s already funded by the endowment.

    But the real reason for me to comment is to complain about your horrendous commenting system. Right now, in the Recent Comments section, I can see two messages from yesterday for articles that are several years old. When I go to those articles, the recent comments don’t show up. If I click on “More Comments…”, I see comments from 6 weeks ago (March 31, April 1). When I look at various articles, the recent comments section show different comments. Some of the Hugo related articles had many comments that just don’t show up at all. It’s serious broken, and has been for months, if not longer.

  2. Bruce, I can appreciate your concerns, but we couldn’t do much worse than now–with public libraries able to spend only around $4 per capita on books and other content on the average.

    My supposedly progressive hometown of Alexandria, VA, has been spending only around $2.50 per capita (although this is about to change for the better).

    The endowment plan would increase spending on content as well as other kinds.. Both locally and nationally, politicians love to be stringy toward libraries, and since most funding is local, imagine the fate of, say, kids in small-town or rural Mississippi. Remember, the plan is for a NATIONAL endowment. And I’ve already noted that the money is there. Imagine–just 400 Americans worth together more than $2 trillion.

    If not even a few billionaires want to give, that will be nice red meat for those of us who think we really, really need to tax the super rich a lot more heavily than now. I myself do. That said, we should at least offer the rich a chance to be Carnegies without the task being so DIY. Some just might.

    The Gates Giving Pledge, if honored, could help. Billionaires will be looking for places for the cash. And the endowment would be a nice easy target for their generosity.

    As it is, in the U.S., the super rich all too often are simply giving money to institutions for the elite rather than those that serve mass needs. The endowment could award them recognition for being more responsive to such needs.

    Now–about your complaints about TeleRead’s comment area. That’s something for Juli to respond to. Keep the feedback coming! And along with Juli, I hope that other readers will do the same. While I no longer own TeleRead, I continue to root from the sidelines. What other fixes and improvements of all kinds would you like TeleRead to make? The more details, the better.


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