Gates Foundation "Goes Big" In Funding Nationwide Librarian Training Program

In our Grant Finder profile of the Gates Foundation, we refer to the organization as "The Big One." So it shouldn't come as a surprise to see "The Big One" doing very big things. We're talking about the foundation's recent $990,195 grant to the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), in which the foundation isn't content on just training a handful, or even a hundred or so librarians. Nope, the grant aims to pilot a training system for public librarians at the national level.

The scope of the plan is audacious. Current librarians and volunteers would partner with the DPLA to acquire, use, and sustain "new digital skills" using the DPLA's open materials and services. Librarians will undergo good old fashioned training to produce digital materials that can be transformed into compelling virtual exhibitions. The project also emphasizes the importance of collecting content that reflects community history and heritage.

The grant perfectly aligns with the foundation's goal of supporting education efforts across the country and globally—with a twist. While a portion of their $3-4 billion in annual giving is directed towards student-related programs like college readiness and improved higher education, this grant is directed towards the librarians themselves. We applaud this strategy because it addresses an all-too-common problem in the world of education where the technical acumen of the student exceeds that of the teacher.

If you don't believe us, just walk into any 4th grade classroom. There you'll find tech-savvy students running proverbial rings around their teachers who only up until recently had to use computers for education purposes. And the same disconnect can occur at public libraries who struggle to keep up with the new tools available to them. The Gates Foundation, of course, is well-aware of this, which is why this funding is tied to its Global Libraries program, which has four main areas of focus: Technology Access in Libraries, Research and Innovation, Training and Leadership, and Policy and Advocacy.

The bottom line here for organizations looking for library funding? Prepare yourselves, especially if the foundation considers you a "high-impact" library: the foundation proactively reaches out to "well-suited" organizations through direct solicitation. And even if you're not a direct recipient of funding, the skills, techniques, and training programs promoted by the foundation will impact many, if not all, public libraries in the country. That's because thanks to this grant the DPLA will "collaborate with 'service hubs'—regional digital library partners across the country to build curricular resources and hands-on training programs."

Would you expect anything else from "The Big One?