LSTA Grant Writing Tips for Small Libraries

By: Missy Lodge
Associate State Librarian for Library Development
State Library of Ohio

Although the idea of grant writing can be intimidating,  writing an LSTA grant, particularly a minigrant or a special grant, is a fairly simple process and one that can lead to significant benefits for you, your library and your customers.  The LSTA minigrant is a maximum of four pages of narrative, double-spaced.  The LSTA special grants are usually two pages of narrative.  Additionally, the special grants have very specific uses and budget requirements.  So, if you have a need in your library and community, I highly recommend you review the LSTA minigrant guidelines and consider applying when the new Request for Proposal is posted in August 2011.  Also, be aware of possible special grants made available on an ad hoc basis. 

            Because the LSTA minigrant process has only minor changes each year, you can begin to plan and develop a possible project anytime.  Following the tips in this primer will assist you in developing a competitive grant proposal whenever you decide to apply.  

            Before you begin writing any grant make sure you read all of the application materials.  In the case of the LSTA grants, make sure you begin by reading the RFP, the Application Guidelines, the Budget Guidelines and the Sample Title Page.  Reading and following these documents will assist you in writing a strong, competitive application.  I also recommend that you use the sections of the RFP as headers in your application.  This will assist you in making sure that all components are addressed and will make information easier for reviewers to locate. 

            A basic tenet of grant writing is that your project should be mission driven, not money driven.  In the LSTA minigrant program you may request funding in one of four categories:

  • Technological Innovation: projects that incorporate the use of new technologies or use current technology in a different ways to improve access, services, or support to library customers. 
  • Automation: to allow libraries that wish to automate to convert their card catalog and join a consortia and participate in statewide resource sharing. 
  • Targeted Populations: to provide services to targeted populations including, but not limited to, people of diverse geographic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds; individuals with disabilities; persons with limited functional literacy and information skills; and those individuals having difficulty using a library.
  • Services to Youth: to provide services to youth, ages birth through 18, with a particular emphasis on youth in poverty and those children from families with incomes below the poverty line.

The State Library allows each individual to determine what is technological innovation in their building or  who is a targeted population in their community, however, you must have a need in one of these areas before submitting a proposal.  Seeing the LSTA Request for Proposal as “free money”  will not work.  You must have a need that LSTA can address. 

            When beginning to write the LSTA proposal, I always recommend that applicants begin with a snapshot of their community.  Remember reviewers come from all parts of the state and all types of libraries.  Some things to include in the snapshot….the location of the library, the size of the library, number of staff, ease of access for the targeted population and so on.  This will then segue into the need for the project. 

            Your LSTA proposal (or any grant proposal) essentially tells the funder what the problem is, what you plan to do to address that problem, what steps you will take, how you will know you have addressed the problem, and how much it will cost.

            What is the problem? 
This is your General Description/Needs Assessment.  This is when you let the reviewers know what the problem is that you wish to address using LSTA funds.  A good needs assessment will include quantitative data (for example statistics) and qualitative data (anecdotal and observation).

            What will you do? 
These are your objectives.  Your objectives will indicate what you wish to accomplish through this project and the impact you hope to have on the problem/stated need.  Objectives should be measurable.

            What steps you will take? 
These are the activities you will undertake to bring the project to fruition. 

            How will you know if you have succeeded? 
This is your evaluation and it will indicate if you met the objective and what was accomplished through the project.  In your proposal you should indicate what types of data will be collected and when, and how you will measure the success of the project.  The Institute of Museum and Library Services is very interested in having LSTA projects use Outcome Based Evaluation.  This type of evaluation looks at the impact and/or changes a project has on knowledge, skills, behavior and attitudes of the targeted population.  If possible, your evaluation section should include some type of OBE statement.  Evaluation tools you may wish to consider include pre- and post-tests (wonderful for OBE!), observation, website hits, surveys, and anecdotal information.

            How much will it cost? 
This is your budget.  For LSTA projects make sure you follow the LSTA Budget Guidelines.  For any grant, make sure you use the budget categories and follow any specific requirements indicated.  Make sure your budget is realistic – determine what you require to fulfill the project and ask for it.  Don’t inflate the budget by asking for additional items but don’t cut corners so you don’t have what you will need to fulfill your goals.  One of the best ways to have a perfect budget is to work closely with your fiscal officer.

            For LSTA projects you will also need to link the proposal to your libraries long-range plan, federal LSTA purposes and state LSTA goals.  Linking the project to a goal or activity of the library’s long-range plan can be done in the needs assessment.  There is a separate section in the proposal for linking the project to LSTA goals.  The best way to approach this is to quote verbatim one federal LSTA purpose and one LSTA state goal (these are found in the RFP) and then explain in a sentence or two how this project will address the purpose and goal.

            Having partners, although not a specific requirement to receive LSTA funding, is beneficial and will result in a higher score when the proposal is rated.  Partners will indicate to reviewers that the library is working with other organizations and agencies in the community and that all agree that the library is a key institution in addressing the stated need.  In the planning stages of your proposal, partners will provide you with more ideas.  In the implementation phases, partners will provide support and publicity.  Letters of support from partners strengthen the proposal.  Consider having letters of support from another library in the community (school, community college, etc.), from potential users of the project, or from agencies/organizations that also work with the targeted population (Head Start facility, Senior Center, etc.)

            Hopefully this brief primer has helped take some of the fear out of the LSTA grant writing process.  Potential applicants should also remember that assistance is always available at the State Library.  You can call (614.644.6914) or email me ( to brainstorm ideas, ask questions before or during the writing process, have examples of similar, funded projects sent to you or have LSTA staff review your draft before it is submitted. 

            LSTA grants are not for every situation.  Maybe your need is now and does not coincide with the LSTA grant cycle.  Maybe your need is one that is not fundable under LSTA regulations.  There are other grant opportunities out there that have a simple application process.  Some examples include are listed below but remember you will need to check websites for application requirements and deadlines: 

An excellent way to keep up on possible grant opportunities is the Library Grants Blog Spot:


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