April 19, 2018

Gearing Up for LSTA Reauthorization in 2009, Librarians Seek Flexibility

By Norman Oder

  • Advocates seek $680,000 state grant base
  • Librarians in the field want more money for training
  • ALA says separate construction grant program under discussion

Librarians certainly value the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), the major federal program supporting libraries, but, when the law goes through reauthorization beginning in 2009, they’d sure like a bit more flexibility using the funds, given that it focuses on technology spending at the expense of broader challenges like training and marketing. That message came through Saturday at an open hearing on LSTA held by the American Library Association’s (ALA) Washington Office during the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim.

(Check the LJ 2008 ALA Annual Conference page for more live coverage.)

Hearing chair Pat Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association, explained how federal support began 1956 with the Library Services Act, aimed at improving rural library services. In 1964, the Library Services and Construction Act supported buildings, literacy, and other initiatives. The first major revision of the act, in 1996, created LSTA, overseen by a new agency, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The reauthorization of LSTA in 2003 raised the level of state base grants from $340,000 to $680,000. However, LSTA has never been fully funded to achieve that goal; pending in Congress is a $171.5 million figure for grants to state library agencies, which represents the “magic number.”

Besides such state grants, the largest component of federal support, LSTA also funds Native American Library Services, the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, and National Library Leadership grants. A major evaluation of state program, by the consultants Himmel and Wilson, is due this fall 2008

ALA officials said they hope to ensure the $680,000 floor and the library education program in the reauthorization. The IMLS recently announced that funding assisted 3220 master’s degree, 186 doctoral, 1256 pre-professional, and 26,186 continuing education students. The Washington Office will establish an LSTA wiki for feedback.

Construction funds needed
Why, asked Brian Reynolds, directcor of the San Luis Obispo County Library, CA, are funds for construction absent, given the significant need for library remodeling and construction. The answer, from Joan Ress Reeves, chair of the ALTA’s (Association for Library Trustees and Advocates) advocacy subcommittee, was that “Congress just did not want to do construction. They felt it was a state responsibility.”

Emily Sheketoff, executive director of ALA’s Washington Office, said, “We have been talking to various members of Congress about library construction, but it would be completely separate bill, not in the education and labor area, but in infrastructure.” Congressional leaders who oversee LSTA, “are very definite in not wanting to fund construction.” 

She later explained to LJ that a library construction bill would set up a program of planning grants for construction an renovation, seed money before libraries go to the public with a bond issue. The figure, perhaps $100 million—compared to $225 million for LSTA—“would be an affordable amount of money for the federal government, yet it would really enable libraries to get the money that they need.”

Flexibility sought
Several comments addressed flexibility in using LSTA funds for marketing and continuing education by organizations. “Our hearts are with you all,” declared Mary Chute, IMLS Deputy Director for Libraries. The language of the law ties spending to technology. “We have to hold people’s feet to the fire, so when auditors call, we past muster.”

Sue Sherif, director of library development, of the Alaska State Library pointed out that, thanks to LSTA and the Gates Foundation, “we now have the ability to get technology to remote libraries, but basic training that the staff needs is restricted.”

The message from front-line librarians, Tumulty said at the end of the meeting, came through loud and clear..


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