February 22, 2018

Museum and Library Services Act of 2017 Introduced in Senate

The Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA) of 2017 was introduced in the Senate on December 21 by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), along with Susan Collins (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bipartisan bill, S. 2271, reauthorizes the core programs administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS): the Museum Services Act and the Library Services Technology Act (LSTA), which provides more than $183 million in funding through the Grants to States program; National Leadership Grants for Libraries; the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program; and Native American Library Services. The agency has been a source of support for public, academic, research, special, and tribal libraries, as well as some 35,000 museums.

Federally funded agencies and programs typically call for periodical authorization to be passed by Congress to justify their work. Although not required for a program to continue to receive funding, authorization demonstrates congressional support to the necessary Appropriations Committees, and helps give direction as to how the agency should operate. Agencies that lack authorization risk being targeted for elimination, particularly—as now—when a contentious national budget may call for drastic cuts.

American Library Association (ALA) president Jim Neal said in a statement, “Today’s introduction of the bipartisan MLSA reauthorization is the first critical step toward ensuring federal support for our nation’s nearly 120,000 libraries. LSTA grants enable libraries in every state to innovate and meet the growing demand for services that meet the needs of our communities.”

UPDATING MLSA

The federal government has provided direct aid to libraries since 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA). After a number of reauthorizations, LSCA was replaced by LSTA when Congress passed the first Museum and Library Services Act in 1996. The new act combined the Library Programs Office—part of the Department of Education since 1956—and the Institute of Museum Services to establish IMLS. A second MLSA, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, updated the original legislation and authorized federal funding for LSTA through FY09.

The most recent MLSA, signed by President Barack Obama in December 2010, was also written by Senator Reed, authorizing funding through FY16. In September 2016 Reed—LJ’s 2002 Politician of the Year—introduced S.3391, the MLSA of 2016, with Collins and Cochran as cosponsors, but it did not advance past the Senate HELP Committee—a typical fate of “lame duck” legislation in the months after the 2016 national election.

In the process of refining S. 2271 in 2017, Senator Reed’s office solicited feedback from the library and museum communities, including ALA and the American Alliance of Museums. Reed also solicited local input, hosting a round table with Rhode Island librarians in 2016. Reed also spoke with other legislators about what could be modified and improved on from the 2016 bill to gain further support, and was able to bring Murkowski and Gillibrand on board.

The legislation includes a number of updates, such as an emphasis on strengthening the use of data-driven assessment tools—particularly to help develop local services to better meet community needs—and providing for technical support and assistance in data collection, as well as enhancing IMLS’s abilities to collaborate with other federal agencies. The reservation of funds for Services for Native Americans will be adjusted to more closely match current appropriations. IMLS will also be provided with additional tools to better meet oversight and programmatic responsibilities.

The bill also amends LSTA to give prominence to libraries’ roles as community hubs, highlighting such services as education, lifelong learning, workforce development, economic and business development, digital literacy skills, critical thinking, financial literacy skills, services for community members like caregivers and veterans, and new and emerging technology—making sure to shape language open-ended enough to provide for libraries’ technology needs down the line, whatever those might be. The language around literacies has been updated, such as adding “developing digital citizenship and the responsible use of technology” to the definition of “digital literacy” in order to address such issues as cyberbullying.

Greater emphasis is given to recruiting and training the next generation of library and information science professionals from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, and to leadership grant funds that serve a range of library types in geographically diverse areas. In addition, after the hurricanes and wildfires of 2017, the legislation clarifies that grant funds can be used toward helping libraries get back online in the event of disasters to help serve their communities.

Language has also been revised to create more consistency between the bill’s provisions for libraries and museums.

The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. It must pass both the Senate and the House before it can be sent to the president to be signed into law.

CALL FOR COSPONSORSHIP

Although both chambers have recommended that the FY18 national budget provide funding for IMLS, final funding bills have not yet passed Congress. ALA’s Washington Office continues to advocate for support for IMLS, and in the meantime hopes to help bring in additional cosponsors in the Senate for MLSA to show support for the bill. (Reed’s office also wants to work with representatives to introduce companion legislation in the House.)

At the moment, debate and dialog in Congress are focused on the budget, health insurance, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and a possible government shutdown and sequester. This is a good moment for library advocates to generate enthusiasm for bipartisan support of MLSA, so that when those items are settled, the bill can move forward. Calls and email from library supporters helped a letter to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education written by Reed and Collins in May 2017, seeking $186.6 million for LSTA programs, garner 45 signatures from their fellow senators—a record level of support.

ALA encourages supporters to contact their senators and ask them to cosponsor S. 2271.

ALA’s Distract Dispatch asks supporters, “In your emails and calls to senators, tell them how LSTA funds enable your library to offer valuable services to your community. Invite them to visit your library to see for themselves the difference you are making in people’s lives. Ultimately, it is your story and your voice that will persuade your elected leaders to show their support for libraries and cosponsor the MLSA of 2017.”

“The goal of reauthorizing the MLSA is much larger than level funding for federal library programs,” Neal said in a statement to LJ. “It is also about providing certainty that IMLS has a mandate to carry out its mission – ‘to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.’ Passing the MLSA will be a vote of confidence for libraries—that we are vital community hubs for access to technology and information [and] that we spur innovation and development within our communities. Passing the MLSA will give us a foundation to build strong, long-lasting federal support for libraries.”

Senator Reed, in a statement to LJ, said, “Librarians and library patrons have been absolutely essential to getting these bills done in the past. They will be critical to getting it through this year too. It is so important for people to remind their elected officials how important libraries are in their communities today, including how they are responding to and meeting changing demands and essential community needs.”

Added Neal, “Asking members of Congress to sign onto the MSLA is one way to give voice to our values and to cultivate congressional support for libraries that extends well beyond one or two fiscal years.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Debbie Alexander says:

    Graysville Public Library in Graysville Alabama has a population of 2300 in our little small town. The library is busy each day with local patrons coming to check out the latest or their favorite author or a great book. Can not imagine Graysville Alabama without their Library. The library benefits so many people from kids to adults. If we do not have a particular book a patron is looking for we borrow it from one of our 40 libraries in the Jefferson County Library System.

  2. Michelle Curtis says:

    Libraries are the backbone of our communities, and they offer so many important services from book lending to basic Internet which aids those looking for employment and educational opportunities.

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