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ALA to Congress in 2018: Continue to #FundLibraries

2017 was an extraordinary year for America’s libraries. When faced with serious threats to federal library funding, ALA members and library advocates rallied in unprecedented numbers to voice their support for libraries at strategic points throughout the year*. Tens of thousands of phone calls and emails to Congress were registered through ALA’s legislative action center. ALA members visited Congress in Washington and back home to demonstrate the importance of federal funding.

stack of gold coins sketch
The challenge to #FundLibraries in 2018 is great: not only is Congress late in passing an FY 2018 budget, it’s time to start working on the FY 2019 budget.

ALA members have a lot to be proud of. Thanks to library advocates, Congress did not follow the administration’s lead in March 2017, when the president made a bold move to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and virtually all federal library funding. In every single state and congressional district, ALA members spoke up in support for federal library funding. We reminded our senators and representatives how indispensable libraries are for the communities they represent. And our elected leaders listened. By the time FY 2018 officially began in October 2017, the Appropriations Committees from both chambers of Congress had passed bills that maintained (and in the Senate, increased by $4 million) funding for libraries.

Despite our strong advocacy, we have not saved library funding for FY 2018. We’re more than three months into the fiscal year, and the U.S. government still does not have an FY 2018 budget. Because the House and Senate have not reconciled their FY 2018 spending bills, the government is operating under a “continuing resolution” (CR) of the FY 2017 budget. What happens when that CR expires on January 19, 2018 is a matter of intense speculation; options include a bi-partisan budget deal, another CR or a possible government shutdown.

While government may seem to be paralyzed, this is no time for library advocates to take a break. The challenge in 2018 is even greater than 2017: not only is Congress late in passing an FY 2018 budget, it’s time to start working on the FY 2019 budget. The president is expected to release his FY 2019 budget proposal in February, and we have no reason to believe that libraries have moved up on the list of priorities for the administration.

2018 is a time for all of us to take our advocacy up a notch. Over the coming weeks, ALA’s Washington Office will roll out resources to help you tell your library story and urge your members of Congress to #FundLibraries. In the meantime, here’s what you can do:

Stay informed. The U.S. budget and appropriations process is more dynamic than ever this year. There is a strong chance that we will be advocating for library funding for FY 2018 and FY 2019 at the same time. Regularly visit DistrictDispatch.org, the Washington Office blog, where we will post the latest information on ALA’s #FundLibraries campaign and sign up for ALA’s Legislative Action Center.

Stay involved. What you show your decision-makers at home is important part of our year-round advocacy program because it helps supplement the messages that your ALA Washington team is sharing with legislators and their staff on the Hill. Keep showing them how your library – and IMLS funding – is transforming your community. Plan to attend National Library Legislative Day 2018 in Washington (May 7-8) or participate virtually from home.

Stay proud of your influence. Every day you prove that libraries are places of innovation, opportunity and learning – that libraries are a smart, high-return investment for our nation. When librarians speak, decision-makers listen!


*2017: Federal appropriations and library advocacy timeline

March The president announced in his first budget proposal that he wanted to eliminate IMLS and virtually all federal funding for libraries.
April ALA members asked their representatives to sign two Dear Appropriator letters sent from library champions in the House to the Chair and Ranking Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that deals with library funding (Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, or “Labor-HHS”). One letter was in support of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), and one letter was for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program (IAL).

House Results: One-third of the entire House of Representatives, from both parties, signed each Dear Appropriator letter, and nearly 170 Members signed at least one.

May More than 500 ALA members came to Washington, D.C. to meet their members of Congress for ALA’s 2017 National Library Legislative Day.
Nearly identical Dear Appropriator letters were sent to Senate Labor-HHS Approps Subcommittee leaders.

Senate Results: 45 Senators signed the LSTA letter, and 37 signed the IAL letter.

July The House Labor-HHS Subcommittee and then the full Committee passed their appropriations bill, which included funding for IMLS, LSTA and IAL at 2017 levels.
September The House passed an omnibus spending package, which included 12 appropriations bills. The Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee and then the full Committee passed their appropriations bill, which included a $4 million increase for LSTA above the 2017 level.  Unable to pass FY 2018 funding measures, Congress passed a continuing resolution, averting a government shutdown.
December Congress passed two additional CRs, which run through January 19, 2018.
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Kathi Kromer

Kathi Kromer is the Associate Executive Director of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

One Comment

  1. Charlotte Schiaffo Charlotte Schiaffo

    “Thanks to library advocates, Congress did not follow the administration’s lead in March 2017, when the president made a bold move to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and virtually all federal library funding.”

    The president’s move was many things, but “bold” is the wrong word to describe his action. “Boneheaded,” “Ignorant,” “Destructive,” “Uninformed,” “Catostrophic”- there are many words that could describe the idea of saving money by defunding libraries, but “Bold” is nowhere on the list.

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