Today ALA’s own Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director of the Washington Office, sat down at a microphone (carrying with her in spirit thousands of libraries and millions of library patrons) before Congress to make the strongest possible case for ongoing federal financial support of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL).
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies accepted public testimony today from ALA and other organizations. One of the few organizations invited to testify, ALA continues to lead efforts to secure $186.6 million in funding for LSTA and $25 million for IAL, arguing that federal support for these programs enables librarians to provide invaluable tools and resources to patrons and often deliver critical government services. The Subcommittee is responsible for crafting one of the 12 appropriations bills that Congress produces annually.
In comments to the Subcommittee, Sheketoff noted that librarians are helping patrons to become better and more productive citizens. She emphasized that the services many patrons have come to expect at their local library include: improving English literacy skills, obtaining and filing citizenship papers, applying for employment, filing for veterans or unemployment benefits, assistance in earning a GED, and obtaining tax forms and assistance in filing their taxes. Libraries, she said, also serve as critical resource hubs for entrepreneurs and small businesses, and as meeting places for members of the community… and sometimes even Members of Congress.
Several Subcommittee members specifically praised the work of libraries across the country. Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) noted that libraries have served communities heroically during disaster events. Another member, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) lauded the work of librarians as they continue to be an excellent resource in underserved neighborhoods for children who need homework assistance.
Sheketoff highlighted successful LSTA programs across the country, including: LSTA grants in Oklahoma which supported digital literacy classes for students, health literacy activities, and the purchase of databases that were searched nearly 13 million times in just a single year; LSTA grants in Connecticut that served the needs of blind and visually impaired patrons; and grants in California that supported an innovative program for veterans seeking to return to mainstream society.
Whether LSTA is supporting programs for veterans, children, the disabled, or the unemployed and underemployed, Sheketoff stressed, the value of LSTA as the only source of federal funding for our libraries is clear. Now, in a time when states and cities are reducing support for public libraries and patrons are turning to libraries more often, her testimony said, “it would be as economically inefficient as it would be devastating to communities across America for Congress to turn its back on libraries and their tens of millions of patrons.”
In supporting IAL, Sheketoff added that providing books and childhood literacy activities to children is “crucial to their learning to read, and that their learning to read is crucial to both their economic futures and our nation’s.” The program also supports parental engagement, and promotes student literacy from birth through high school, she added. “The growing demands for a highly literate 21st Century workforce cannot be met unless we begin to support literacy education for our youngest students.”
Sheketoff called on the subcommittee to sustain and strengthen our communities and our nation by sustaining and strengthening America’s libraries.
ALA will continue to keep members apprised as the appropriations process progresses.