Today’s library goes beyond books

Albert Einstein said, “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”

Today’s library goes beyond books. In Idaho, especially in small and/or rural areas, the library can be the only place in town to hold a meeting, access reliable, high-speed Internet, make a telehealth appointment, or serve as a safe space after school.

Based on the needs of local communities, public libraries lend a variety of items, including board games, learning kits, fishing poles, and musical instruments, and offer a range of supports and services, such as help with a job application or class assignment, and resources for changing jobs or starting business, health and nutrition assistance, and even being a local passport center.

Libraries are funded at the local level, and in Idaho, that funding varies widely. For example, in fiscal year 2021, the Prairie County Library had only $80 to spend on new materials for its collection. And nearly 28% of Idaho elementary schools allocate between $0 and $100 each year from their school district to purchase books for the school library.

Local and school libraries elect trustees responsible for approving collection development policies. If any resident wants to challenge a book in a library, that issue is dealt with at the local level.

The Idaho Commission on Libraries (ICfL) is a state agency that helps more than 850 Idaho public, school, academic, and private libraries best serve their communities through: statewide programming and resources, such as Read to Me and Libraries Connecting Idaho (LILY); advisor; completion of education; partnership and helping disadvantaged residents, such as the visually impaired, with the Idaho Talking Book Service.

ICfL also supports digital inclusion, through which libraries in Gem State Idaho help access information and communication technologies vital to life in the 21st century. ICfL facilitates federal and state broadband funding for public libraries, can provide needed technology, especially for smaller libraries, and offers information and advisory support. In addition, the commission provides an electronic branch service for public libraries, which enables their presence on the Internet, provides a digital skills website, and leads the formation of the Digital Access Plan for All of Idaho.

ICfL provides grants for continuing education and professional development opportunities for Idaho Library staff. Through the Idaho Digital E-Book Alliance (IDEA), ICfL makes more than 24,000 e-books and electronic audio titles freely available to public libraries and schools in Idaho. In addition, ICfL supports a number of early literacy initiatives, including Jump Start Kindergarten and My First Books, through which more than 535,000 books have been distributed to children in Idaho since the program began in 1997.

ICfL also manages federal funding for library projects in Idaho, such as those through the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), which funds up to $1,250,000, and recent American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding of $1.8 million awarded to 48 Idaho libraries. ARPA funding has provided a huge boost to libraries as they have helped keep students learning and adults earning during the pandemic and beyond. Another source of federal funding that ICfL hopes will be supported during the 2023 legislative session is through the Library Facilities Project. Idaho Libraries could use more than $3.5 million to meet critical infrastructure needs. The kind of federal funding allowed to be used for library/infrastructure construction is rare.

The Idaho State Library Commission works to help Idaho libraries meet – and exceed – the ever-evolving needs of their communities. For more information about ICfL, visit https://libraries.idaho.gov.

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