Washington Scene

state of america's libraries report 2011





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In a nail-biter, Congress passes Library Services and Technology Act

After almost a full year of anxious anticipation on the part of the American Library Association and library grassroots supporters, Congress, in December 2010, passed the Museum and Library Services Act, which includes the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and reauthorizes all of the programs under the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). President Obama signed MLSA into law on Dec.22, 2010.

The LSTA is the only federal program exclusively for libraries.

This down-to-the-wire Congressional accomplishment was a major legislative victory for America’s libraries –– though it did not come without the diligence of the library community’s grassroots network and collaboration among ALA staff and leaders in Congress, primarily library champion U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), who authored the Senate bill. However, Congress failed to take the next steps in the federal funding process by year’s end: passing the fiscal 2011 budget bills, including funding for the LSTA and the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Program.

In fact, none of the 12 fiscal 2011 budget bills were passed by the end of the 111th Congress. Instead, faced with the government running out of money and shutting down, Congress passed a continuing resolution until February 2011 under which all federal programs, including the LSTA and Improving Literacy Through School Libraries, will be funded at the fiscal 2010 levels, leaving the duty of passing the fiscal 2011 budget to the 112th Congress.

While the LSTA can fund all types of libraries, it is currently the only annual source of funding in the federal budget for academic and public libraries. The LSTA has several titles supporting unique library programs, the largest of which is a program that provides funds to every state library agency (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Territories), administered and distributed by the IMLS on a population-based formula. Each state librarian determines how to distribute the LSTA funds based on state needs.

When President Obama released his fiscal 2011 budget request to Congress in February 2010, he asked that the LSTA be funded at the fiscal 2010 level, $213.5 million. ALA continues its efforts to convince Congress to appropriate $300 million to the LSTA in both fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012, a position that won the support of 35 Senators and 22 Representatives during the 111th Congress.

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Libraries authorized as relocation facilities during disasters and emergencies

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) worked with the ALA Washington Office to secure a change to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policy that will recognize and fund libraries as temporary relocation facilities during major disasters and emergencies under the FEMA Public Assistance Program.

Section 403 of the decades-old and much-amended legislation known as the Stafford Act authorizes FEMA to provide federal assistance to meet immediate threats to life and property resulting from a major disaster. Section 403 allows for the provision of temporary facilities for schools and other essential community services when it is related to saving lives and protecting and preserving property or public health and safety.

“In times of disaster, libraries strive to ensure the public has access to the resources and services they need, but prior to this policy change libraries were specifically excluded from the list of eligible public facilities,” Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA Washington Office, said. The inclusion of libraries ensures that the public “will continue to find the critical resources they need in times of an emergency at their local library.”

Reed was also enthusiastic about the change.

“This is a common-sense change that I have been calling for since Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “It will help libraries in need relocate so they can keep serving the public in the wake of a flood or other emergency. Libraries are vital information hubs, and in the aftermath of a disaster, libraries take on an even greater community role, providing free and easy access to technology and essential information.”

FEMA’s list of eligible public places now includes facilities for police, fire and emergency services, medical care, education, libraries, utilities and other essential community services.

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Libraries help overcome challenges to home broadband use, study says

Libraries and other community organizations fill the gap between low home adoption of broadband use and high community demand and provide a number of other critical services, such as training and support, according to a study carried out by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) for the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC commissioned the study to help inform its members’ understanding of barriers to broadband adoption and to shape the National Broadband Plan, which was due to Congress under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The study, “ Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities,” was formally unveiled in March 2010 at an ALA-hosted event in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The study draws on some 170 interviews of non-adopters, community access providers and other intermediaries conducted across the US in late 2009 and early 2010.

The study noted that broadband access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not an outcome of it — and that residents of low-income communities know this. According to the study, support organizations often help users gain the skills that lead to confident, sustainable home broadband adoption. Yet these support organizations are under severe economic pressure to meet community connectivity needs.

The presenters discussed the contexts for understanding barriers to broadband adoption. These vary from price to skill and language differences to the challenges of community-based organizations, such as libraries, in providing broadband access for those without it at home as well as instruction on using the Internet.

The SSRC study found that public libraries are critical anchor institutions that enable social and economic inclusion in many communities due to their role as primary providers of broadband access, training and support for those without broadband at home. It suggests that supporting the mission with core technology funding and specialized staff is an efficient way of mitigating the high costs of digital exclusion.

Presenters at the event included John Horrigan, consumer research director, FCC; Mark Lloyd, associate general counsel and chief diversity officer, FCC; Dharma Dailey and Amelia Bryne, independent researchers, SSRC; and Sheketoff.

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Libraries gain broadband stimulus funding under Recovery Act

Hundreds of libraries secured broadband stimulus funding in 2010 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), passed by Congress in February 2009. The act appropriated $7.2 billion for broadband to the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), and the ALA worked hard in 2009 to inform the implementation of the two programs and to guide the association’s membership and the library community with their applications for broadband funding.

In September 2010, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced 14 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investments to help bridge the technological divide, create jobs and improve education and public safety in communities across the country. The investments, totaling $206.8 million in grants, were the final awards in a program to increase broadband Internet access and adoption with the goals of enhancing the quality of life for Americans and laying the groundwork for sustainable economic growth.

“In a globalized 21st century economy, when you don’t have regular access to high-speed

Internet, you don’t have access to all the educational, business and employment opportunities it provides,” Locke said. And Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information and administrator of the NTIA, emphasized libraries in the announcement.

“In total, we are investing in 233 strong projects that reach every state,” Strickling said.

“Most are ‘middle mile’ networks that expand high-speed Internet availability to communities and connect key institutions, such as schools, libraries, and hospitals. This focus allows us to get the biggest bang for every grant dollar by addressing communities’ broadband problems while creating jobs and facilitating sustainable economic growth.”

The ARRA allotment to the RUS helped fund investments in 30 states that created jobs by building and enhancing libraries in 129 rural communities nationwide. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack confirmed that his department understands the critical role libraries play in all communities, especially rural areas.

“Libraries are the centerpiece of rural community life, but in many cases they need additional funding to provide rural residents with computer access, modern equipment and new training and educational opportunities,” Vilsack said. “These Recovery Act investments in our nation’s libraries will serve rural America for generations to come.”

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Tech needs of libraries addressed in National Broadband Plan

The technology needs of libraries were among the issues addressed in the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which was released in March 2010. The plan recommends that the federal government and state governments develop an institutional framework that will help anchor institutions obtain broadband connectivity, training, applications and services.

The plan encourages the federal government to take steps to enable these and other community institutions to better utilize their connectivity to improve the quality of life of all people. Specifically, the plan recommends that:

  • Congress consider providing more public funds to create a Digital Literacy Corps to conduct training and outreach in non-adopting communities.
  • Congress, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) make a commitment to increase the capacity of institutions that act as partners in building the digital literacy skills of people within local communities.
  • Congress consider providing more public funds to the IMLS to improve connectivity, enhance hardware and train personnel of libraries and other community-based organizations.
  • The OMB, in consultation with the IMLS, develop guidelines to ensure that librarians and community-based organizations have the training they need to help patrons use next-generation e-government applications.
  • Congress consider funding an Online Digital Literacy Portal.

The release of the plan spurred both legislative and regulatory activity, but legislative action was left to the new Congress, which convened in January.

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More than 3,000 attend Library Advocacy Day, in person or virtually

More than 2,000 participants attended the ALA’s Library Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill on June 29, 2010, and 1,053 more participated virtually. Activities included a rally on Capitol Hill, meetings with advocates’ elected officials and a virtual component in which participants emailed and wrote to their representatives in Congress. This event was nearly five times as large as any National Library Legislative Day event held in the past.

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USA PATRIOT Act extended for three months

Congress, in early February, gave itself three more months to consider provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that help track security threats but have drawn fire from the library community and other defenders of privacy rights. President Obama signed the bill later in the month, before the provisions were to expire on Feb. 28. At issue are two powers established in the 2001 anti-terrorism legislation that allow law enforcement officials to set roving wiretaps to monitor multiple communication devices and to ask a special court for access to “any tangible thing” — including business and library records — that could be relevant to a terrorist threat. A third provision, from a 2004 intelligence act, gives the FBI court-approved rights for surveillance of non-American “lone wolf” suspects not known to be tied to specific terrorist groups.

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New director at IMLS

Susan H. Hildreth was sworn in as director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services in January after being confirmed by the Senate in December 2010. Previously, she was the city librarian of the Seattle Public Library; she had also served as California state librarian and deputy director and then city librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.

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Policy brief explores effect of mobile devices on library services

There’s an App for That! Libraries and Mobile Technology: An Introduction to Public Policy Considerations (PDF),” a policy brief released by the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, looks at how the adoption of mobile technology alters the traditional relationships between libraries and their users. Author Timothy Vollmer explores the challenges to reader privacy, issues of access to information in the digital age (including content ownership and licensing), digital rights management, and accessibility.

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