Struggling public and school libraries throughout Illinois can look forward to a story with a happier ending thanks to a grant from Secretary of State Jesse White.  White announced $15.6 million in grants Wednesday to libraries statewide for critical items such as books, personnel and equipment.

The Forest Park Library will be receiving almost $20,000 from this state-wide grant, said Rodger W. Brayden, director of the Forest Park Public Library.

School District 91 received $783.35 in the grant money as well.

Fund allocation from this grant, known as the per capita grant, depends in part on the library and in part on the census tract numbers for the village it is located in, Brayden said.

“Assuming we do [our paperwork] in good order, we receive a grant based on the last recorded numbers from the census or population of the village multiplied times $1.25 per head,” Brayden said.  “In our case it comes to close to $20,000.”

An additional nine public library districts with a low library tax base will be receiving equalization aid grants to ensure a minimum level of funding for library services.

In order to receive the grant, libraries across the state must fill out a detailed questionnaire, listing the size of their budget with regard to collection of materials, numbers of computers, etc., Brayden said.

“It is an fairly detailed application questionnaire.  We are given a deadline each year and we wait for the happy news that we got here.  We got out letter two or three weeks ago telling we were awarded the grant,” he said.

“I truly believe our public libraries are cornerstones of our communities, places where all citizens can go for informational, educational or entertainment purposes. This funding helps ensure that our libraries have the resources to address the needs of their citizens and keep our communities strong,” White said in a statement last week.

The funds come from the Secretary of State Jesse White’s office precisely because White also serves as the state’s librarian.

Illinois public libraries this year will receive $14.2 million, a 17.3 percent increase over last year’s grant, while school libraries will receive the same amount they did last year, $1.4 million.

One of the goals of White’s program is to support technological projects in the Illinois library system. Secretary of State spokesman Pat McGuckin emphasized that although many people are able to get information from the Internet on their home computer, most libraries now have Internet terminals for people who don’t have access to it otherwise.

In Forest Park, the money will most likely be used for just this cause: computer upgrades.

The money “can be used for specific areas of the collection and we indicated [in the application] we had an interest and will pursue the interest in doing some upgrades to our computer systems here,” Brayden said. “We are talking about upgrades to operating systems on our computers, an unglamorous use of money, but a very important one.”

McGuckin said these annual grants are critical because “a lot of libraries are financially strapped.”

McGuckin said the state is also constantly refining the interlibrary loan system, known as ILLINET. There are about 4,000 participating libraries throughout Illinois that exchange books, CDs and DVDs. If a patron can’t find what he or she is looking for at a library in Palatine, for example, it can be sent from a library in Naperville.

For Brayden, continuing to update the “quite popular” interlibrary loan system is a necessary process.

“Any system like this is a work in progress and it has been getting consistently better,” Brayden said. “The system has been getting steadily faster.  Any system like this needs to be constantly refined.  It is a very good system which they are in the process of making it better every year.”
•Amanda Wegrzyn is a writer for the Medill News Service in Chicago.