May 20, 2022

California: Brief/Analysis: Governor’s Local Library Proposals (Zip Books & Lunch at the Library) Address Salient Issues But Need Improvement

From a New Brief/Analysis from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

In this brief, we analyze the Governor’s proposals to provide one‑time General Fund for two local library initiatives—the Zip Books program and Lunch at the Library. We begin with an overview of the State Library and local libraries in California. We then describe and assess each proposal and offer associated recommendations.

State Library Oversees Both State Programs and Local Initiatives. 

The State Library’s main functions are (1) serving as the central library for state government; (2) collecting, preserving, and publicizing literature and historical items; and (3) providing specialized research services to the Legislature and the Governor. In addition, the State Library passes through state and federal funds to local libraries for specified purposes and provides related oversight and technical assistance. These local assistance programs fund literacy initiatives, Internet services, and resource sharing, among other things. In 2018‑19, the State Library is receiving $64 million from all fund sources, of which $27 million is for statewide operations and $37 million is for various local initiatives. Of total funding, 67 percent comes from General Fund, 29 percent comes from federal funds, and the remaining 4 percent comes from various state special funds.

Public Libraries Are Run and Funded Primarily by Local Governments. In California, local public libraries can be operated by counties, cities, special districts, or joint powers authorities. Usually the local government operator designates a central library to coordinate activities among all the library branches within a jurisdiction. In 2018‑19, 185 library jurisdictions with 1,119 library branches are operating in California. Local libraries provide a diverse set of services that are influenced by the characteristics of their communities. Most libraries, however, consider providing patrons with access to information a core part of their mission. More than 95 percent of local library funding comes from local governments and the remaining 5 percent comes from state and federal sources.

Governor Proposes to Fund Two Local Library Initiatives on a One‑Time Basis. The two initiatives are: (1) the Zip Books program and (2) Lunch at the Library. Both initiatives received one‑time General Fund appropriations in previous years. The remaining two parts of this brief provide our analysis of each proposal.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.