Here's The Most Reliable Big Wheel University Library Funder

New York City’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has supported university libraries since you were still playing with Matchbox cars. And earlier this year, they re-marked territory as the brand name foundation in academic library funding with dual grants of $1.25 million to Penn State and University of Michigan collections. They followed up with another $775,000 to Five Colleges of Ohio, Inc. for digital library services at several area colleges this week (see Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Grants for Higher Education).

During the 1990s, university collections could also rely on the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Department of Education, and the Pew Charitable Trusts to support new projects. But as Susan K. Martin explains in a 2000 issue of Library Trends, government funding got stingier as the decade continued. The number of private funders interested in academic collections also dropped noticeably.

NEH became more and more occupied with endowment maintenance. What money they could spare for project support would often go to conservation-related projects. In the non-profit sector, Pew continues to maintain a healthy funding diet for research on libraries, but gives money in direct support of them only infrequently. Of the few grants Pew has given for libraries lately, none break the $500,000 threshold; likewise, none that I can find have gone to university-affiliated collections.

"Of the private foundations," Martin wrote, Mellon "has been the primary strong voice with its programmatic endorsement of [university] library needs and innovations." Accompanied with a primary strong wallet, this foundation continued on its course throughout the 2000s. Reviewing Foundation Center data, Luis J. Gonzalez finds that Mellon gave a total of $4,015,000 to academic libraries between 2003 and 2007.

Martin considers Mellon the single largest consistent funding source for collections of this type during the 1990s; Gonzalez finds the same during the 2000s, though supramillion dollar gifts do sometimes fall from the heavens. Take for example a series of "three separate endowment funds grants" from Washington State’s Norcliffe Foundation. They went to "Seattle University libraries in Washington, totaling $3,333,334," according to Gonzalez. But the conditions of such fortune are seldom reproducible. Norcliffe has since turned further library support to public projects.

Two divisions at Mellon support college libraries: the Scholarly Communications and Information Technology initiative and their Liberal Arts Colleges Program. In the engine room, ask for program officers Donald J. Waters at the first and Eugene M. Tobin at the second of these two offices (read Eugene Tobin's IP profile).