October 2019 | XXXVII. Issue 5 »

Power to Your Staff: Mini-Grants at Your Library

September 27, 2019
Lizzy Boden and Britney Musial, North Riverside Public Library

Every library has a strategic plan that governs its initiatives, services, and mission. At many libraries, however, staff members are not always fully aware of their pivotal roles in helping the plan come to fruition. The process of including all staff members in feeling empowered to suggest ideas or improve library services for patrons may feel overwhelming, due to limited resources and time. Recently, the North Riverside Public Library’s staff and trustees came up with an idea to allow the library to mindfully set aside both resources and time in order to encourage staff to think critically about library services and to propose new ideas and solutions.


The idea came to fruition as Strategic Plan Mini-Grants. Any staff member who has an idea for a library improvement or a solution to a problem they have observed can apply for a Mini-Grant. If the grant is approved, the staff member can then implement the project. This allows staff members to take full initiative and ownership throughout the process. The purpose of these grants is to focus all staff members’ attention fully on furthering our strategic plan and allow them to pursue good ideas.


North Riverside is a fairly small library located in the nearby suburbs of Chicago. Our community is made up of about 7,000 residents. Our annual budget is roughly $1 million. In June of 2018, our library board officially approved our 2018–19 fiscal year budget with a $4,000 line item for strategic initiatives. The line item funds the Strategic Plan Mini-Grants. Our Director created an application and forwarded it to all staff; she also requested that managers encourage their staff to apply.


Each quarter, the Reviewing Committee is made up of different staff members. A staff member who serves on the Committee one quarter can still apply for the grant in a different quarter. Reviewers grant up to $1000 per quarter, but individual grants cannot exceed $500. Staff members can apply as many times as they wish, and if a project is not funded, the staff member is encouraged to re-think it and apply again. Each application requires that the staff member justify the proposal under the terms of our Strategic Plan.

As of now, the Reviewing Committee is always made up of members of our administrative team. Submissions are not anonymous, since the staff is small enough that it would be clear who had created an application. In the next fiscal year, however, our goal is to broaden the Committee’s membership and find a way to anonymize the submissions fully. This will allow us to democratize the process even further.


The North Riverside Public Library has benefitted immensely from this new initiative. Every quarter, we receive far more applications than we can fund. Although it is sad to have to turn down applications, it shows that our staff has embraced the process. The ideas have been diverse and have improved our patrons’ experiences, often in measurable ways. Some of the funded applications include:

• Whiteboards for our study rooms

• Magna Tiles for our Lego Club

• A train set for Youth Services

• A puppet theater for our Storytimes

• New displays to highlight YA books

• New tables for our YA section

• A chalkboard behind our reference desk to highlight programs

• Charging stations around the library

In cases where there is not enough money to fund strong applications, staff members are encouraged to apply again. In some cases, where appropriate, our Director has brought the request to our Friends group for it to consider purchasing.

In addition to empowering our staff, these grants also help administrators find out about sticking points or patron requests of which they were previously unaware. For example, our new study room whiteboards have proven to be incredibly popular, and we frequently hear from patrons about how happy they are with the addition. Without these Mini-Grants, the staff member who most frequently heard the request for whiteboards might have had no accessible avenue (or the financial resources) to make it happen.


Strategic Plan Mini-Grants are replicable by almost any other library. The grant allocation can be scaled up or down according to the size of the library and its budget, and the broader purpose of the grant can change too. The application, reviewing team, budgeting process, and anonymity of the applications can all be decided by the library trustees and administrators, depending on the needs of the library. The consistent factor is that instituting a program similar to the North Riverside Public Library’s Strategic Plan Mini-Grants will empower your staff members to share ideas, make their voices heard, and bring positive change to your library and the community it serves.

Happy granting!

It’s Great for Programs, Too!

The Schaumburg Township District Library realized that staff members of all levels, across the Library, were excited about programming and wanted to share their ideas. So they created a way to encourage this enthusiasm and innovative thinking.

Through an anonymous submission process, staff members send in their ideas for a new Library-wide program, something big that brings various departments together in the planning process and attracts all ages. Once a year, the Library’s Program Advisory Group evaluates the submissions, based on organization-wide programming goals (such as creating a hands-on experience, having intergenerational appeal, or utilizing community partnerships).

Once the Program Advisory Group selects a winning idea, the staff member who submitted it is welcome to join the planning committee, if interested. The committee then has a budget of $2,500 to create a fantastic new program that the community will love. Through this process, the Schaumburg Township District Library has hosted successful Culture Fest and Big Read events.

—Kate Niehoff, Schaumburg Township District Library

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