Long passed over in favor of more exciting and trendy areas of funding, libraries have traditionally had a hard time attracting enough funds from private donors. That’s ironic, since one of the most famous episodes in the history of philanthropy is Andrew Carnegie’s gifts to build public libraries throughout the U.S. And yet, a century later, it’s hard to think of many top foundations or leading individual donors who back libraries in a large-scale and ongoing way.
But just maybe the tide is turning as more donors come to see the varied ways that libraries can advance a range of important goals.
Marilyn Simons, who is president of the Simons Foundations in New York City, put the case this way:
The library has such an important role to play in the community. In addition to its traditional role as a source of information and knowledge, the library provides access to space and resources that might not otherwise be available. I’ve been impressed by the library’s increasingly important role as a provider of free, practical programs, such as English language classes, computer skills training, and job research, preparation, and placement services.
Simons made this comment in an announcement of a $25 million gift that she and her husband Jim, the hedge fund billionaire, recently made to the New York Public Library—among the largest in its history. This couple is best known for supporting math and science. Jim is a math whiz who turned to finance and the Simoneses have channeled the bulk of their giving into the Simons Foundation, which supports basic science research.
The new Simons money is going towards the renovations of three library branches in the East Harlem neighborhood and to support other programs. This significant gift from the Simons couple will also help NYPL leverage the limited city and state funds for much-needed capital work at the 125th Street, Aguilar, and…