by Katie
Sundstrom
Session covered: LSTA Grantee Panel: Building Capacity
through Partnerships & LSTA
The LSTA grants are federal funds
that are requested by, and administered through, the MN Department of
Education, to support library projects across the state.  However, it isn’t just one big grant pool
that is awarded out once every year – they also supply mini-grants, such as
“Playful Learning in Libraries” and “Expanded Learning in Libraries,”
(applications due November 5th), for more narrow goals, such as
projects working in collaboration with schools. 
Applications, information, and more can be found on the MN Department of
Education website: education.state.mn.us.

The process that the Department
of Education uses to sort through the grants is as follows:

     1.  Once the applications are received, they are
sent out to reviewers and scored.  These
reviewers are regular library workers, our colleagues, who have volunteered
their time for this, and they score the applications based on a 100 point
system.  Each application is reviewed by
more than one person at this stage.  (If
your library has not received an LSTA grant previously, you automatically get 5
extra points)
     2.  The official grants team reviews these
reviewers’ reviews, because the more reviews, the better. 
     3.  Now there is an official review session.  The multiple reviewers for a particular grant
get together and argue over why they assigned the scores they did, and try to
come to some kind of agreement (he said 40 points, she said 60 points, so they
finally settle on 50 points…)
     4.  State Library Services of the MN Department of
Education reviews these final reviews and scores, and money is assigned to the
top scorers.  In fact, the money has to
be given to the top scorers, so if the top scorer is asking for all of the
money, then that person is the only person to receive the grant that year.  However, if the 10 top scorers all only asked
for a little bit, and all ten added together equal the amount available for
that year, then all 10 top libraries will receive the grant.  That is why different numbers of libraries
receive the grant each year.

      Some of the things that the LSTA Grants committee is looking for are as
follows:
      1.  The application is complete
      2. The application was submitted on time
      3.  The application uses words and phrases directly
out of the LSTA 5 year plan.
      4. The project looking for funding has a
sustainability plan
      5. The project creates partnerships and
connections, especially between public libraries and schools when possible
      6. The project provides opportunities for students
experiencing barriers to information access and educational experiences  (prove
that need)

      LSTA grants can be applied towards a wide variety of programs as
well.  Of course, there is all that fancy
technology, with tablets, laptops, ereaders, ebooks, and more.  Then again, it could also be applied towards
hiring a consultant, such as when SELS did their “eBooks for Southeastern
Minnesota Schools” study; it could be used to train and hire local artists and
purchase art supplies to begin hosting regular art classes for senior citizens,
such as Austin Public Library’s “Creative Aging in the Mower County Libraries”
program; it could even be used to purchase toys with an educational purpose,
such as South St. Paul Library’s “Indoor Play Space.”  If you are concerned about the extra time and
effort required to set-up a program once you’ve received a grant, know that
funds can be applied to staff salary and benefits to cover extra hours as well.
      If you have already submitted an application and were turned down, don’t
be too discouraged yet.  This year alone,
they had grant applications for nearly $2,000,000, but nowhere near that much
money, so you aren’t alone in not receiving a grant.  If you are planning on trying again next year
and want to give yourself a bit of an edge, you are allowed to request the full
application of any of the previous winning recipients, then base your work off
of that; after all, if it sounded good enough to get them the money, then with
some minor tweaks, it might sound good enough to get you some money.  Perhaps even better, particularly if you have
a special and unique project in mind, you can request your previous grant
application back, complete with all the reviewers’ comments and scores, so you
know exactly what to edit before re-submitting it again the next year.

So now you have an
overview of how the LSTA grant application process works, some tips on how to
make it look better, an idea of what you can use funds on, and the secret
knowledge of being able to get real and direct feedback for future
applications.  Use this information, and
turn in your best application ever.  I
hope at least one of us up here can procure some extra funds!