Image features a yellow sign with a bookshelf in front. The sign says
State aid at the Oakland Public Library helps the library improve their collections, such as the children's picture books. Photo courtesy of the Oakland Public Library.

With an allotment of 2021 state aid, public libraries across the state are deciding how to utilize these additional funds. 

“State aid is allocated to accredited libraries (with one exception – dollars for data), to help them provide enhanced services to their community,” said Sam Shaw, planning and data services coordinator for the Nebraska Library Commission. “It’s tied to the accreditation process, so libraries have a financial incentive to become accredited.”

In 2021, of the 177 libraries that received aid, 70 saw an increase in aid. Thirty-three libraries saw no change and 74 saw a decrease.  

Each library is given a base pay, the amount depending on if their service area is below or above 8,000 people. For 2021, libraries with a service area below 8,000 receive a base payment of $565, plus $0.10 per capita. Libraries with a service area above 8,000 receive $0.132 per capita. 

The total amount of aid available each year depends on the amount allotted by the legislature. 

Additionally, through the Nebraska Library Commission, libraries can apply for accreditation and are assigned points based on their application. 

Based on accreditation level, Shaw said libraries are also offered a bonus. Libraries with a gold accreditation receive an additional $400, while those at silver receive $200. Some of the minimum requirements for accreditation include providing internet access at no charge to library users and that the library receives funding from a Nebraska city, township, village or county. 

Within the past five years, the Scribner Public Library has seen a 65% increase in aid, the largest five-year percent increase of any of the public libraries. While in 2016, the library received $633, in 2021 it received $1,046. 

For the Scribner Public Library, its change in aid resulted from a change in accreditation status. The library had advanced from its previous position to the gold level. 

Shaw said reasons for a change in aid can include a change in accreditation status, population change in the library’s legal service area, and changes in county funding towards the library. For example, if the county cuts the amount of money it provides for libraries, the same proportion is cut in the library’s state aid. 

According to Angela Brainard, director of the Scribner Public Library, the additional funding has allowed the library to increase its outreach programming.   

“We use it to reach out to younger kids,” Brainard said. 

Some of the library’s youth programming includes summer reading and storytimes. Another opportunity the state aid assists with is outreach for individuals who are homebound and delivering library materials to their homes. 

The Oakland Public Library saw the greatest percent increase in state aid from last year. In 2020, it received $898 in aid. In 2021, it received $1,098, a 22% increase from last year. 

“I always try to use state aid money to improve collections that the regular budget won’t allow,” said Rosa Schmidt, director of the Oakland Public Library. “Each year, I pick an area.”

In previous years, Schmidt has added to the children’s picture books and books for middle readers. She has yet to decide on how to spend the 2021 funds. 

As Brainard looks to the future for the Scribner Public Library, one of her goals is to bring people back to the library in person. 

Because of COVID restrictions in 2020, Brainard said that the library pushed patrons to use OverDrive, an eBook distributor, so they would still have access to books. The library also restricted the children’s storytime and made it virtual. Now, they’re working on getting moms to bring their children in for the programming. 

“We’re coming out of COVID, and it’s a process of getting people in the doors safely,” Brainard said.

Kaitlynn is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is majoring in both psychology and journalism.