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Advocacy works: Broad number of legislators back library funding

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photo by Dwayne Bent

Each year around this time, Appropriations Committees in both chambers of Congress begin their cycle of consideration and debate of what federal programs will be funded the following year. For both political and fiscal reasons, the process is marked by tremendous competition for a limited and often shrinking “pie” of Appropriations dollars.

In this environment, demonstrating early, strong and bipartisan support of federal library programs by as many Members of Congress as possible is vital to giving critical programs such as the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) the best possible chance of being funded at the highest possible level in the coming year as part of the “Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies” Appropriations bill.  That crucial Member support for LSTA and IAL is best shown by them signing on to what are called “Dear Appropriator” letters drafted each year by congressional library champions in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. These letters, sent to every member of the two Appropriations Committees, “make the case” for robust LSTA and IAL funding and put budget “hawks” (who often seek to eliminate domestic discretionary programs, such as LSTA and IAL on notice of the importance and broad support for these programs nationwide.

This year for LSTA, Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) spearheaded efforts to gather signatures on two separate letters for each chamber of Congress expressing support for LSTA.  ALA also wishes to particularly thank Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for leading efforts in that chamber and Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Don Young (R-AK), and James McGovern (D-MA) for their leadership in the House for the IAL letters.

In response to alerts by the American Library Association’s (ALA) Washington Office, more than 2,100 librarians across the country sent a total of nearly 6,300 emails to almost every Member of Congress (487 of 533) asking for their signatures on these crucial “Dear Appropriator” letters and the results in all cases topped last year’s figures. Ultimately, 32 Senators and 70 Members of the House supported LSTA, while 29 Senators and 128 Representatives backed IAL. View final versions of all four “Dear Appropriator” letters supporting LSTA and IAL in the Senate and House: Senate LSTA (pdf), Senate IAL (pdf), House LSTA (pdf), House IAL (pdf).

The current Appropriations process will be a long and, for LSTA and IAL, potentially very bumpy road.  However, thanks to our Congressional champions and librarians everywhere, we’ve made a great beginning.  Fasten your seat belts and stay tuned for word of what’s around the next bend.

Please thank your Representative and Senators if they signed any of the letters.

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Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the deputy director of government relations at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before coming to the ALA in 2014, Kevin was the vice president of government affairs for the American Hotel and Lodging Association for 20 years.

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