Making the Federal Case for Libraries

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by Steve Zalusky

Federal budget discussions have librarians and library supporters concerned, as the budgetary guillotine looms over the Institute of Museum and Library Services, known as IMLS.  IMLS, which is celebrating its 20th year, is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and approximately 35,000 museums.

As it states on its website, “Our mission has been to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. For the past 20 years, our grant making, policy development, and research has helped libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive.”

But that mission could soon reach an end, if the agency is dissolved, something that is proposed in President Trump’s budget for the 2018 fiscal year.  In a statement, Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, warned of the consequences of its elimination, particularly for rural and smaller communities.

She wrote, “We’ve invested in rural and smaller communities by supporting basic infrastructure and the development of libraries as local community hubs for broadband connectivity and digital literacy training, which has helped hundreds of residents gain job-related skills and, in many cases, find employment. In summary, our grants and programs support libraries and museums as essential contributors to improving Americans’ quality of life.”

She noted, “More than $214 million of our $230 million FY 2016 enacted budget targets museums and libraries directly through our grant programs. This includes $155 million for library services to every state and territory in the country through a population-based formula grant program.”

American Library Association President Julie Todaro called the president’s proposal “counterproductive and short-sighted,” in a statement issued on March 16.

She continued, “The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funded through IMLS is the primary annual source of funding for libraries in the federal budget. IMLS distributes the majority of LSTA funds to every state in the nation according to a population-based formula. Each state library determines how to best spend its allocated federal funds, which must be matched at the state level. The range of services provided to millions of Americans through LSTA grants is matched only by the creativity of the libraries that receive them: veterans transitioning to civilian life, small businesses seeking to expand their business online, summer reading programs, resources for blind and hearing-impaired patrons, resume writing and job skills workshops and computer coding courses to teach youth 21st century job skills.

"America's more than 120,000 public, school, college and university and many other libraries are not piles of archived books. They're trusted centers for education, employment, entrepreneurship and free inquiry at the core of communities in every state in the country – and in every Congressional district. And they’re staffed by the original search engines: skilled and engaged librarians."

The ALA has received IMLS grants for such projects as a collaboration between the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of ALA and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) called “Future Ready with the Library: Connecting with Communities for College and Career Readiness Services.”

The project, which is supported with more than $300,000 from the IMLS, aims to co-create a customized learning program for staff at rural, small, and tribal libraries to help them build the knowledge and skills needed to prepare middle schoolers with the 21st century skills needed to succeed in college and their future careers. The project also aims to help these libraries build and expand their capacity through community engagement and partnerships.

Another division of ALA, the Public Library Association (PLA), also received support from the IMLS for a program developed in partnership with the International City and County Management Association (ICMA), “PLA Leadership Academy: Navigating Change · Building Community,” which is being held March 20-24 in Portland, Oregon and will empower 28 public librarians with the skills needed to work with municipal officials to enhance the effectiveness in the library.

School librarians have also benefited from IMLS support. The American Association of School Librarians used an IMLS grant to help hire a research associate to coordinate research efforts that focus difference school librarians can make for students from diverse backgrounds, poverty and special needs.

And the ALA’s Public Programs Office received IMLS funds for a two-year project that will train library professionals in community leadership techniques like coalition-building.  The IMLS has also funded Spectrum Scholarships through ALA to increase diversity in the Library and Information Science Profession.

Librarians and library supporters are taking to social media to help #SaveIMLS. They are using the hashtag to urge supporters to call their representatives.

According to District Dispatch, the blog of the ALA’s Washington Office, as of March 20, there have been 3,838 tweets under the #SaveIMLS hashtag on Twitter, amounting to more than 767 tweets a day or 1,800 people taking part in the conversation on Twitter.  One librarian tweeted that her library receives IMLS funding that is used to train seniors in using technology to overcome the age-related digital divide.

Those who wish to join the groundswell of support should visit the ALA website for the latest updates on the fight to save federal funding for libraries.