November 19, 2017

Proposed Federal Budget Could Cut State Library Funding by Nearly $1 Million

Libraries and Museums: President Releases FY 2015 Budget Request, Includes $226,448,000 For IMLSPresident Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) budget request to the U.S. Congress, released on February 9 by the U.S. Government Publishing Office and the Office of Management and Budget, included $230,000,000 for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Of the total FY17 appropriations request for IMLS, $228,593,000 is allocated for programs and administrative costs authorized by the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA), which comprises the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Museum Services Act (MSA). Some $182,429,000 would go toward programs authorized by LSTA: grants to state library agencies, Native American and Native Hawaiian library services, the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, and National Leadership Grants for libraries.

In addition, $30,244,000 was allocated for museum grants, $1,920,000 for research and data collection, and $1,407,000 for a grants program authorized by the African American History and Culture Act (AAHCA).

The requested amount represents no change from the FY16 enacted appropriation for IMLS, and represents “tremendous opportunity to further strengthen libraries and the services they offer communities across the country,” according to IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew in a statement to Library Journal. “I think this fiscal year 2017 budget acknowledges that potential and responds to it.”

However, the even though the total is the same, the LSTA dollar amount represents a cut of over half a million dollars in funding from the enacted FY16 LSTA total of $182,944,000. And while National Leadership Grants would potentially see an increase of more than $600,000, grants to state library agencies would be cut by nearly $1 million, canceling out the funding increase they saw last year. In addition, funding for Native American and Native Hawaiian library services would see a reduction of more than $200,000. This difference in allocations could mean potential hardships for state libraries.

In contrast, total LSTA funding grew by more than $2 million from 2015 to 2016, after remaining flat from 2014 to 2015, with half of that increase going toward state libraries.

DISAPPOINTMENT FROM LIBRARY AGENCIES

Building on the FY17 appropriation, explained Matthew, IMLS—which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year—has “offered three strategic initiatives that focus on better positioning museums and libraries as community anchors and catalysts, on building capacity in collections, and on creating community-based solutions for veterans and military families. Our libraries are already doing amazing work. These proposals build upon that by incorporating best practices and creating resources and tools for library/museum professionals to meet these opportunities.”

But in a statement issued shortly after the budget request was released, the American Library Association (ALA) expressed its dismay at the proposed cuts to LSTA funding. “We are truly disappointed that the President’s budget does not recognize the value libraries bring to our country,” president Sari Feldman stated on behalf of the organization.

“This is the money that helped libraries offer the Internet for free in almost every library,” explained Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA Washington Office. “This is the money that helped them buy the databases, that [gave patrons]…access to the tools they needed to make their lives better, so that they could practice for the GED, so that they could practice before they took a certification test, so there was software to help them design a resume online.”

Sheketoff added, “That’s why Obama’s budget amount is so disappointing, because libraries really are implementing so many of [his] visions.”

CUTTING SEED MONEY

Not only would the proposed cuts impact funding for grants to state libraries directly, noted Sheketoff, but LSTA grants are “seed money” that matches each state’s individual Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funds. Timothy Cherubini, executive director of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), agreed. “States are really struggling to keep that MOE up. And yet the message that’s coming from the feds is: cut.” MOE requirements call for states to provide a consistent level of support in order to qualify for LSTA money. “So it’s a little bit difficult to look at this cut not just in terms of the dollar amounts,” Cherubini told LJ, “but the more subtle message that it sends about the federal government relative to this question about the states maintaining the MOE.”

Cuts to state libraries promise to trickle down to the local communities they serve as well. “COSLA is the only organization with access to every public library in America,” noted Cherubini. “That access…provides deep insight into community needs and opportunities, leading in many cases to state-level activity that creates or enhances community-focused activity for further benefit at the local level. The decrease in the Grants to States allocation is compounded in many cases by decreases in state budgets. Federal funds up the ante for state support. Probable outcomes of the President’s budget proposal in many states would be not just cuts to statewide services like databases, continuing education, and material delivery, but a trimming of sub-granting by state library agencies to local libraries.”

Cherubini reported that one state librarian commenting to COSLA noted also that “statewide services coupled with individual sub-grant opportunities tend to level the playing field and are especially important to smaller and rural libraries.”

Feldman added, “It seems ironic that the president, who is so focused on individual opportunity and improving quality of life and quality of learning, would make a cut to the Grants to States program, which would reduce that allocation in every state across the nation.”

TAKING ACTION

Whether or not the rollback to FY15 numbers constitutes a trend, Cherubini told LJ, “it definitely is going to impact the bulk of the states in a negative fashion and create situations for them where they’re going to have to find other resources, perhaps scale back on programs, or not initiate new things that they wanted, depending on how they are individually being impacted.”

Regarding the FY17 budget, Sheketoff urged librarians, library workers, and allies to contact their legislators, both senators and members of congress, to urge them to request that the congressional appropriators support LSTA and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL), two-year grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to local school districts for school libraries and other nonprofit childhood literacy organizations. ALA has set up a Call to Action page to help advocates call, tweet, and email their senators and representatives. (Click “send an email” to access the sample letters your elected officials need to sign. The appropriations committee will accept these letters in the Senate until March 18, and in the House until March 24.)

“There is a window of opportunity that we can seize,” pointed out Beth Yoke, executive director of Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). “Right now we are at the very start of the federal budget process, so there is plenty of time to make our voices heard and to mobilize others to speak up, too. The first thing that we can do to speak up for libraries is to ask our members of Congress to sign on to the ‘Dear Appropriator’ letters in support of LSTA and IAL funding that will be circulating later this month and into March. This is an easy way for anyone to get involved, but it can have a big impact.”

Feldman also called on concerned stakeholders to attend National Library Legislative Day in Washington, DC, May 2–3, and lobby on behalf of LSTA. “People need to make their feelings known about these cuts,” said Feldman, “to ensure that these dollars are restored when congress deliberates the budget.”

“We’re certainly very concerned about these grants to states because they are so important for innovation and continuing programs,” Feldman told LJ. “These are the grants that really impact communities around education, employment, entrepreneurship. These are the grants that have been given to communities to do some really important projects.”

Added Yoke, “Everyone’s voice matters. Congress members are influenced by what they hear from voters, and your library patrons are depending on you to make yourself heard—especially those 74.2 million of youth under 18 who depend on libraries but who aren’t yet old enough to vote. If we don’t speak up for them, who will?”

“A small investment in LSTA has tremendous payoff all across the country,” noted Sheketoff.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. I’m not mad, just deeply disappointed. These budget cuts just come off as underappreciation for professionals in the library science field. Library services, such as internet usage, have always been free for as long as I have been born, I am 19 years old now. Such sad news for aspiring librarians.