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Top 10 things to know (and do) about saving library funding

Fight For Libraries! Tell Congress to save library funding.
The talk of Washington and the library community (when people aren’t talking about the President’s tweets, anyway) is the recent recommendation by the President to completely eliminate funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), including their library funding implementing the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program within the Department of Education. Here are the top ten things that you need to know about saving IMLS and more than $210 million in annual federal library funding that will be going on all year.

10. Exactly how much money are we talking about?

LSTA received $183.4 million in FY 2016 while IAL received $27 million. These funding levels are essentially the same for FY 2017 as the year before because Congress failed to enact almost any of the twelve individual appropriations bills that fund specific parts of the federal government and is keeping the governments doors open under a series of temporary authorizations called Continuing Resolutions, or “CRs” in Beltway-speak. Under the terms of a CR, programs are funded at the previous year’s levels (though this year the CR includes a de minimus across the board cut of less than 0.5%). If Congress returns from its upcoming April recess on April 24 and figures out how to pass 11 of the 12 unfinished FY 2017 appropriations bills in less than a week, funding levels for FY 2018 could change. However, that narrow window for Congressional action makes another CR running through the end of the current fiscal year (September 30, 2017) vastly more likely.

9. Why this doesn’t matter:

Congress almost always treats the President’s budget submission, which has no force of law, as “DOA.” As noted above, to actually fund the government, Congress is supposed to pass 12 separate appropriations bills. While that process can be messy and protracted, the key thing is that it’s controlled by the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate which are free to ignore the President (and often do). Many Members of Congress and their staffs tell us that they are not giving serious consideration to the President’s “skinny budget.” So what’s all the fuss about?!?

8. Why this DOES matter:

The Republican party is now in control of both chambers of Congress and the Administration. As you may have seen during last week’s debacle surrounding efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans (at least in the House) are hardly a unified party. However, there are a significant number of conservatives in Congress that would love to deconstruct much of the Federal government and are looking for programs, such as LSTA and IAL, to “zero out.” While libraries have strong allies on Capitol Hill, the President’s request provides ‘red meat’ to others and likely signals that this battle will continue beyond the current fight for FY 2018 funding for the duration of the Administration.

7. What is LSTA and the Grants to States program?

Of the $183.4 million last appropriated by Congress for LSTA, $155 million is dedicated to the Grants to State program. By law, every state gets a portion of that sum per a population-based formula (and subject to a 34% state matching requirement.) Each state librarian or library agency then determines the best use of those funds in their state. In some states, the funds go for the development and maintenance of statewide lending, shared databases, or other state-wide tools. In others, funding is provided for specific programs to, for example: assist veterans transitioning to civilian life, help small businesses to develop an on-line presence, underwrite summer reading programs, foster programs for families with disabled children or even help a small library replace part of their collection lost in a flood. Note: because states are required to match 34% of the Federal funding commitment, a cut on the Federal level necessarily means a cut in state library funding too.

6. What is the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program and why are we talking about it separately from IMLS and LSTA?

IAL grants, which are awarded by the Department of Education rather than IMLS, are the only dedicated source of Federal funding for school libraries and are not part of what was approved by Congress under the LSTA. School libraries can use IAL grant funds received to buy books and other materials in support of early literacy efforts directed to the nation’s neediest children. Of the $27 million appropriated for the program overall, at least half is reserved exclusively for school libraries while the remainder goes to non-profits (which may partner with libraries). Individual schools or school districts apply every two years for funding to the Department of Education. Awards typically go to schools for book distribution, literacy-technology tools and literacy training for teachers and families.

5. What is the ALA Washington Office doing to save IMLS and library funding?

The Washington Office is working early, late and every minute in between to ensure that no stone is left unturned and to keep IMLS, LSTA, IAL and other library funds from being eliminated in FY 2018. As we do every year, the Office of Government Relations’ staff regularly lobbies directly for library funding to Congressional offices individually and/or with multiple coalitions. (Coalitions allow ALA to share information with peers in Washington and amplify our message.)

This year, however, we are working even more closely with ALA leadership and the Association’s state Chapters to “raise the heat” on every Member of Congress to tangibly – not just broadly or rhetorically – support libraries. Specifically, at OGR’s request, ALA President Julie Todaro has conducted hour-long “call to arms” conference calls with all ALA Division Presidents, Executive Directors, caucus leaders, the Executive Board and all 51 Chapter Presidents to brief them on the current threats to library funding and how they can help mobilize library supporters to save IMLS and library funding.

At President Todaro’s request, we have even built a new one-stop-shopping webpage called “Fight for Libraries!” where library advocates can quickly contact Congress, sign up for alerts, share their own stories of what LSTA and IAL have meant in their libraries and communities, learn how to write a quick letter to the Editor of a local paper and access a wealth of other advocacy resources.

We are also coordinating closely, as always, with the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies and have – with special and invaluable help from Cengage Learning, Inc. – launched a new pro-library business coalition called “Libraries Mean Business” to help make libraries’ profound value to society and the economy clear to all Representatives and Senators.

IMPORTANT: All of these efforts are focused for starters on first getting as many Members of the House of Representatives – and soon thereafter as many Senators as possible – to sign two incredibly important letters, one supporting funds for LSTA and the other IAL, that will be delivered to their colleagues on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The number of Members of Congress who sign these two “Dear Appropriator” letters can spell the difference between LSTA and IAL being eliminated or left unscathed by the budget ax!

4. Why are the Dear Appropriator letters so important?

Every year, ALA makes a strong push in March/April to ALA members to urge Representatives and Senators to sign the letters in support of LSTA and IAL (two letters in each chamber). The more signatures these letters gain—and the more bi-partisan— the stronger the message to the Appropriations Committees that these programs have wide support. A powerful Senator or Representative will ask the staff to find a program to cut to benefit their favored program. Staff has been known—off the record of course—to look at how many signatures in support various programs have garnered. Cutting a program with 15 signatures means fewer upset members than axing a program backed by 75 or 100 Members of Congress. It’s that simple.

3. Are the letters more important than ever this year?

YES! YES! YES! Need we say more? OK, we will. The President has sent a message to Congress that LSTA and IAL are not important, but we and our members know just how vital these funds and programs are. With so many programs on the chopping block, supporters of programs of all kinds are trying to ward off cuts with as many signatures as they can on their own letters. We have to win that competition. The letters for LSTA and IAL have always received solid support, but in the face of especially stiff headwinds, we need to double the number of LSTA and IAL Dear Appropriator signers that we most recently received.

2. So, specifically what can ALA members and other library lovers do to save LSTA and IAL?

Whether you can spare 5 minutes or 5 hours to help save $210+ million, here’s how you can get involved…today:

1. The #1 thing you need to know about the fight to save LSTA and IAL funding?

It will not succeed without you – and the friends, colleagues, neighbors, patrons, customers, relatives and complete strangers that you actively recruit – getting involved TODAY and staying involved all through 2017. Without that sustained commitment on a scale that we have never achieved before, we will not succeed at a cost much greater than money to the hundreds of millions of people and businesses who depend on libraries.

Don’t let them down. Act now!

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Kevin Maher

As of November 2018, District Dispatch is no longer being updated. It is now being archived for future use. Please visit for the latest news.

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