Act Now -- or Never for Libraries

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By Christian Zabriskie, Yonkers Public Library/Urban Librarians Unite

The President’s preliminary budget, among other things, defunds and would close the Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS), the federal agency charged with providing support to libraries.

IMLS funds make experimental and innovative library services possible. It also provides essential support for small rural libraries as well as for every state library in the nation (which use federal funds for resources to which every library in the state typically has access). While IMLS’ work is often in the background, it is no less crucial for that.  Much of its work is carried out with funds through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA).  Libraries also receive federal support for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program through the Department of Education.  Together, they provided more than $210 million to libraries in FY 2016 and the President’s budget would eliminate both. Loss of this money would have a staggering effect on communities throughout our country, as well as on the millions of individuals who use America’s libraries.

Fortunately, the United States federal budget is a fantastically complex instrument. President Trump can strike whatever budget lines he wants, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. The budget must still pass Congress and that is where we can be effective right now. America’s libraries need all library supporters to contact Congress now through ALA’s new Fight for Libraries! site to preserve this critical funding.

Currently the budget is under review by the various congressional appropriations committees, one in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate. These committees go through the budget with a dozen fine toothed combs, vote on it themselves and then, if approved in committee, send it on for a vote by the rest of their respective chambers. Not every member of the House and Senate is involved in the details of this process, however, only the members of the Appropriations Committees. When the time comes to make deals to craft a budget that will pass Congress, they are the ones who make cuts, leave programs untouched or even (in some years) increase their funding.

Of course, other members of Congress (for our current purposes, the Senate) want to have a say in this, so there is a vehicle called a “Dear Appropriator Letter.” This rather whimsical term refers to a very powerful document signed by multiple members of Congress saying, “Hey, we think that X is important so when you are making cuts don’t cut it.” It’s a pretty clear statement of priorities, and obviously, the more Members of Congress you can get to sign onto it the stronger it is. The math is easy. A Dear Appropriator Letter with a dozen signatures has weight, one with a hundred of them has that much more.

This is where we come in. Most of our senators aren’t on the Appropriations Committee, but all of them can sign onto these letters and it is up to us to make sure that happens. Please ask both of your U.S. Senators now to sign letters in support of both LSTA and IAL funding. Sign up, do your part, and contact Congress. After you have sent your emails and made your calls, share it on your social media feeds so that your family, friends, colleagues, and that old crush from high school can all do their part too.

The Dear Appropriator Letters are a good solid jab right off the bell, but we have to work fast if we are going to land it. We’ve got just three weeks for our advocacy to generate the 51 or more Senator signatures we absolutely need. That means that not only every library supporter has to step up, but we have to get our friends, our families, our veterinarians, bartenders, pastors, yoga classmates, and neighbors to get onboard and active too.

If you love libraries and you go out on a date, make them contact Congress while you snack on appetizers. If you have a regular trivia night that you go to, ask to talk about it at the mic and get people to email or tweet right then and there. If you are at the playground with your kid, talk it up to the stroller brigade and get people to send emails while your kids are on the swings. We need every one of us to be not only an advocate but a true activist – making noise, taking action and inspiring others to act too.

We can do this. You can do this. Fight for Libraries!