New Mexico Rural Library Initiative

New Mexico's rural libraries are state treasures. Most were established by grassroots efforts of local citizens. They provide invaluable cultural, educational and economic development resources to their communities. They are often the only organization in town offering these resources.

Unfortunately, most don't have dependable or sufficient operational support. In New Mexico, libraries are traditionally funded with municipal gross receipts taxes. Many rural towns are unincorporated. Their non-profit public libraries have no access to municipal funds. Most incorporated villages have small commercial sectors which provide insufficient tax revenue to adequately fund their libraries. Consequently rural libraries struggle to hire staff, adequately pay librarians, fund programing and repair crumbling infrastructure.

The mission of the New Mexico Rural Library Initiative (NMRLI) is to secure a $1 million state funded endowment for each of 55 rural and pueblo libraries. The endowment will also provide support for small communities that want to establish libraries and provide resources for rural libraries through the New Mexico State Library.

NMRLI's proposal led to the establishment of the New Mexico Rural Library Endowment. It was created by the state legislature in 2019 with an initial investment of $1 million and signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. The endowment currently has $28 million which, depending on earnings, could provide a disbursement of about $25,000 per library per year.

To reach NMRLI’s goal of $55 million, a $1 million endowment for each of 55 libraries, we are requesting the New Mexico Legislature appropriate an additional $27 million, yielding about $45,000 per library per year. This could insure adequate salaries for underpaid librarians and sustain these libraries in perpetuity.

New Mexico's rural libraries owe a debt of gratitude for the role private philanthropy plays in helping sustain them. Donations can be made to support the work of NMRLI through the Santa Fe Community Foundation. Individual libraries are always thrilled to get donations.

Contact us for more information.


Education Land Trusts were established nationally after the revolutionary war to provide income for public education. Many states sold their trusts. When New Mexico became a state, the constitution stipulated that it could not sell state trust lands. Consequently, New Mexico's Land Grant Permanent Fund is one of the largest state land trusts in the nation.

Each piece of land in the trust is tied to a particular entity. Most are tied to public education, but some other entities, such as certain hospitals, are part of the trust. Over 90% of it is tied to public education. The legislature is committed to preserving this valuable resource. A bill to fund early education from the land trust failed in 2018, as some legislators were wary of diminishing the corpus of the trust.

The State Lands Newsletter from the fourth quarter 2016 said, “Perhaps the most important characteristic of state trusts is their perpetuity. They are intended to endure and provide benefits from generation to generation without foreseeable end.”

There are currently three additional statewide endowments besides the Land Grant Permanent Fund, (9.49 billion) managed by the New Mexico State Investment Council.

Severance Tax Permanent Fund (3.66 billion)

Established in 1973 from funds collected from taxes on natural resource extraction. It primarily pays debts from bond issues for capital projects. It is constitutionally protected. An amendment passed in 1983 said legislators may not remove money from corpus of fund.

Water Trust Fund

Established in 2006 with $40 million. In 2007, $15 million more was added. It primarily funds water infrastructure projects. It distributes $4 million annually to the Water Trust Board. The legislature is constitutionally prohibited from removing more than $4 million annually. That amount of depletion is not sustainable. If not recharged the endowment will fall to 0 in 20 years.

Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fundamental

Established in 2000 from tobacco company settlements. During its early years, half, about $20 million, funded tobacco cessation and health projects, and half went to general appropriations. Now it all goes into general appropriations. The fund is still building and its use is not constitutionally protected.
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Why an endowment?

The idea of a public/private partnership to create statewide rural library endowments was discussed in the mid 1990s with then state librarian Ben Wakashege and representatives from several foundations and non-profit libraries. During the intervening years no other solutions have been found.

The New Mexico Legislature understands the benefits of public endowments. The state land trust is our largest funding source for public education. An endowment requires no new taxes and will fund the libraries in perpetuity. The public fund was established with broad support, passing the state House of Representatives unanimously. Both Democrats and Republicans spoke in favor of it.

Private philanthropy is foundational to the success of New Mexico's rural libraries. The generosity of donors large and small enables many of us to keep our doors open, improve our facilities and provide the innovative programing that helps sustain our communities. A private endowment to fund New Mexico's rural libraries has been established at the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

Our proposal

We would like the endowment to be funded with $50 million dollars. This will provide each of more than 50 community and pueblo libraries with about $45,000 per year at 5% earnings for the fund. It will make grant funds available for the establishment and support of new libraries in small communities that don't already have one. It will also fund specialized services to rural libraries though the New Mexico State Library.

Learn more

Libraries are more than books

More Than Books

New Mexico's rural libraries play a vital role their communities.  They provide internet and computer access to people who don't have them at home.  Rural libraries are often community centers where local groups hold meetings and sponsor events. Some provide the only local early childhood education or tutoring programs. They can serve as repositories of local history.  Many host programs like archeology talks and workshops, author readings, adult computer literacy classes, STEM classes, maker spaces, and art workshops. Some even host free movie nights.

In a crisis, such as a flood or fire, the library is often the first place place people go for information. Rural libraries spur economic development.  Some help with resume writing, computer skills, and long distance entrepreneurship. Others hold job fairs.

And they lend out books. Small towns have fewer services than cities, so rural libraries are called upon to do many things to help their communities survive and thrive.  They are a place to connect with others in community, strengthening relationships and fostering grassroots problem solving.

Other things many rural libraries provide include;
• Notary, copy and fax services
• Summer reading programs
• Connections with other state resources including Museums, the Albuquerque Zoo, wildlife centers, the Santa Fe Opera, Explora, and more
• Oral history projects
• Opportunities for community service
• Help accessing government services such as Affordable Care Act registration and tax forms
• After school programs

Individual New Mexican rural libraries have created projects unique to their communities such as sponsoring a;
• Radio station
• Public Park Kids reading to dogs project, to develop confidence to read aloud
• Local Fiesta
• Day care center Heritage orchard and pollinator garden
• Genealogy research project
• Second hand store
• Farmer's Market

As grassroots organizations, rural libraries are in a position to know and address their community's needs.

The Vallecitos Library, for example, learned through a survey of their community that many locals can't afford to add minutes to their phones.   The library now provides free phone service when they are open.

Jemez Springs Public Library participated in the Valles Caldera Elk Festival on September 24, 2016.  Kids enjoyed making their own bugle to “bugle like an elk” and adults learned about library services and enjoyed a “make the coyote chase the elk” Mobius strip challenge.

A regular library patron requested help formatting a word document. It was a final essay for her GED.  She came into the library a month later to write a cover letter and submit an online job application, and she showed me her successful GED certificate. She told me “I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it for my kids so they can see that education is important. - Embudo Valley Library and Community Center


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