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updated: 2/15/2012 7:13 PM

State grants to libraries will pay for technology, other upgrades

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With the state of Illinois still mired in a financial morass, many library officials weren't counting on the annual grants distributed by Secretary of State Jesse White.

But Wednesday, White announced 620 libraries across the state will be receiving a share of $11.9 million. The grants are based on population of the service area of the libraries. The more people that have access to the library, the bigger the grant.

More than 50 suburban libraries and districts will receive grants ranging from $202,945 in Aurora to $1,750 in Maple Park.

While many library officials are happy to have the extra funds, they note they are receiving less each year. Schaumburg Township Library District Executive Director Stephanie Sarnoff said three years ago the district was receiving $25,000 more than the $130,084 it will get this year.

"It's just another way we're being squeezed," she said.

Instead of receiving $1.25 per person, districts are receiving $1.02 per person, state officials said.

The money will likely come later this year because grant funds are issued first to needier libraries that use the money to stay open. That's not the case in Schaumburg Township.

"We don't use it for operations because we can't count on it," Sarnoff said. "This money will be used to enhance what we already do."

Most grant funds distributed by White's office can be used for a wide variety of purposes, except construction, state officials said. A small capital improvement grant program will be enhanced next year with $50 million made available to libraries throughout the state, $10 million of which will go to Chicago.

The funds going to Schaumburg Township have tighter restrictions because they're federal funds earmarked for technology, said Pat McGuckin, state library communications manager. He said about $2.5 million of the total grant amount is federal money.

Libraries in Elgin, Wheaton, Round Lake, Palatine, Lake Zurich, Algonquin and Wheeling are also receiving some or all of the grants from federal dollars, McGuckin said.

Other suburban libraries also avoid using the grants for operations.

"I use the money for extras that enrich the library for our people," said Antioch Library District Director Kathy LaBuda, saying tax dollars, not grants, fund necessities. "I don't feel right now that I can trust it will be there every year."

Antioch library officials are planning to use the $26,777 grant to buy audio/visual equipment for the library's public meeting room. LaBuda said the district usually receives about $34,000 to $35,000.

"I don't know how far $26,000 will go," she said. "But I'm grateful for Jesse White's continued support of libraries."

Carol Stream library officials expect to buy a "book vending machine" that will be placed in an "underserved" part of the village, said Library Director Ann Kennedy.

Kennedy said she also hopes to use some of the $40,724 grant to increase the library's multilingual services. In the past, the grants have been used on technological upgrades like Wi-Fi printing and purchasing e-readers.

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