December 16, 2017

House Approves IMLS, LSTA, IAL Funding for FY18

Photo credit: Ron Cogswell

When President Donald Trump released his preliminary budget proposal for FY18 in March, revealing major cuts to government spending that would have eliminated support for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and a host of other cultural institutions and independent agencies, the library community took the threat as a call to arms. The dynamic response paid off on September 14, when the full House of Representatives voted to approve a spending package, H.R. 3354, that would preserve federal funding for IMLS at FY17 levels, as well as all funding for its programs under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Department of Education’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) Program, which supports programs designed to develop and improve literacy skills for children and students from birth through 12th grade in high-need areas. The package also increases funding for the National Library of Medicine by $6 million.

This follows the Senate Appropriations Committee’s passage, on September 7, of a funding measure that would not only secure funding for IMLS, but increase it by $4 million, which would go to the Grants to States program. The bill, approved by the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee (Labor-HHS), would increase IMLS funding to $235 million, with Grants to States receiving $160 million. The measure would also boost FY18 dollars for the National Library of Medicine, Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, and Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies. Innovative Approaches to Literacy would receive level funding.

The subcommittee measure now needs to go to the full Senate for consideration. Once the final bill passes, it will need to be reconciled with the House’s level funding bill, most likely later in the year.

Final passage of legislation by both chambers of Congress by the end of the FY2017—September 30—is unlikely, according to a post on the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office’s District Dispatch. In that case, Congress will need to enact a Continuing Resolution, which would fund the government at current levels, to avert a government shutdown on October 1, wrote Kevin Maher, ALA Office of Government Relations assistant director. “Please be ready to participate in one last grassroots push this fall when your voice is most needed to maintain—and possibly increase—library funding,” he added.

GRASSROOTS AT WORK

Because federal government agencies such as IMLS are not allowed to engage in advocacy, supporters throughout the country immediately began compiling resources for the fight to save funding as the initial budget announcement was followed by a roller-coaster spring and summer. The bipartisan compromise announced May 1 that would have boosted IMLS funding by $1 million was met three weeks later by a budget request from the Trump administration that proposed to cut nearly all funding from IMLS and other cultural agencies. In July, the House Labor HHS proposed a measure that included level funding for IMLS at $231 million, which the House Appropriations Committee voted to approve 28–22, setting the stage for the most recent spending package.

ALA—whose then-president, Julie Todaro, called Trump’s February budget proposal “counterproductive and short-sighted”—organized an Everyday Advocacy webpage with resources for contacting elected officials, talking points, and a call to share library stories on social media under the #SaveIMLS hashtag. ALA’s National Library Legislative Day, held on May 1–2, drew more than 500 supporters from all 50 states, plus a simultaneous Virtual Library Legislative Day which allowed long-distance advocates to contact Congress by calling or emailing.

Nonprofit political action committee EveryLibrary worked with several state library associations and ALA’s American Indian Library Association (AILA) on locally appropriate #saveIMLS messaging, as well as providing a one-stop page where supporters could identify and then call or email their federal representatives, sign a petition, or donate to the cause. The multiple campaigns brought out more than 17,000 library supporters. “And 85% of them are not librarians,” noted founder and executive director (and a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker) John Chrastka. “These are all ‘regular folks’ who have self-identified as being library advocates, library activists— they’re part of the EveryLibrary network. Maybe they’re [library] users, maybe they’re not, but they have it in their understanding of America that the library is a key institution, and librarians need the resources that come from a funding formula that is federal, state, and local.”

The Urban Librarians Unite Conference in Brooklyn and ALA’s Midwinter and Annual conferences featured sessions offering strategies for supporters, and Library Journal took up the banner in August, with a special advocacy package.

“Congratulations to everyone who has taken action to help #saveIMLS,” ALA president Jim Neal wrote in an American Libraries post. “Many of us called and emailed our members of Congress. Many of us retweeted action alerts issued by the ALA Washington Office at key stages in the campaign. Some of us wrote op-eds for local newspapers. Some coordinated with state librarians to identify the impact of IMLS funding on local libraries and even hosted congressional staffers at our libraries during the summer.”

Once House and Senate begin the process of resolving the differences in their spending bills, advocates may need to renew the push to hang onto their recent gains. But the House win demonstrates that by making their voices heard, library supporters can make a difference when it counts—now and in the future, because the fight is not over.

“If we have succeeded in holding the line on IMLS this time around, I’m thrilled,” Chrastka told LJ, citing Republican political philosophy as a driver of continued attacks on national library funding. “But…unless we can bring out enough regular Americans to make [IMLS] off limits, it will still be something that’s targetable in a future budget.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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