5 Things You Need to Know About Grant Writing for School Libraries

Elizabeth Mills /

woman working at a desk with papers, books, and computer

Have you ever thought about applying for a grant to support your school library? It can be a great way to expand your programs, strengthen your resources, and even build new relationships and partnerships. Check out these approachable resources and strategies that can simplify this process and help you to feel supported and confident in your efforts.

1. There’s no reason too small to seek out and apply for grants for your school library.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to update a part of your collection, or you’d like to bring a popular author to your school, but they’re outside of your budget. Or perhaps you want to expand your makerspace area and purchase new materials. You could apply for small grants first, with a focus on building a part of your collection or supporting an author visit. Once you’re feeling a bit more comfortable with getting grants, don’t be afraid to dream big and ask for more! The more often you apply for grants, the easier it gets.

2. Know why you’re seeking out funding.

Grantseeking and applying is like planning a program at your library. Begin with what you want to do and why you want to do it. What benefit is this going to have for your library, for the students, teachers, and/or administrators at your school?

Develop a short statement with a good argument for your proposal. When writing your statement, it’s important to also remember to emphasize how the donor’s investment will positively impact the issues that are important to them, rather than just leading with the needs of your library. The more concise and impactful you can be in your explanation, the better your chances are in getting funded, because you have explained to the funder how their funds would make a difference to the students and teachers that you serve.

3. Grantseeking and writing takes time and research.

It’s not enough to know that you want funding for a great opportunity at your school library. You also need to understand the kinds of grants available, the funders who offer them, and the various pre-work and research you need to do before applying.

You can start at your school. How is your school library funded currently? How have teachers and others at your school obtained funds for their special projects and initiatives? Could any of these resources be useful to you as well? Understanding your colleagues’ processes can help you decide what sort of funding you are going to seek out. You can also leverage connections in your networks, including those in your school administration to help with this.

4. Not all funders have the same expectations.

Funders can include private, commercial, and charitable foundations; state and federal granting agencies; and more. For instance, the Institute of Museum and Library Services is a federal agency that provides funding for libraries and funded the creation of the School Librarian’s Information Shelf. The Laura Bush Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides grants to support the nation’s least-resourced school libraries. Take the time to research these funders and their grants thoroughly. Understand their objectives, eligibility criteria, and guidelines and ensure that your project aligns closely with the grant's focus. Applying for and managing grants takes time and capacity - knowing the expectations up front will help determine what is right for your library.

Where to look for potential grant opportunities:

5. The grant-writing process CAN be straightforward.

Even though funders can vary in their types of awards, eligibility criteria, and application processes, there are some common steps to take when embarking on this process. Here is a roadmap to help you write a successful grant application:

  • Talk to the funder: Talk to the funder. Building a relationship with the funder and their staff can help you to better understand if your mission and work align with theirs. You can also learn how to be effective with your proposal. Reach out to schedule time to talk if the foundation staff are open to it.
  • Follow the guidelines: Pay close attention to what is required and how those requirements fit with what you need/want and with what your library’s values and priorities are. Try to find examples of successful past applications for guidance as you begin the application process.
  • Collaborate: Consider collaborating with partners and stakeholders who can support your project or program and lend credibility to your application.
  • Ask for feedback: Before submitting your application, ask for feedback from a colleague or mentor who can help you spot errors and opportunities for improvement.

Bonus! Fellow school librarians, teachers, and administrators can be invaluable in helping you in this process. They can find grants, locate sample applications, and work with you to determine how to align your grant-seeking purpose with your school’s strategic plan for added support.

Additional resources:

Grantseeking for Libraries: Strategies and Tips (webinar)

10 Library Grants Every Librarian Should Apply For

Transforming School Library Practice: A School Librarian's Information Shelf