Washington Scene

Congress

Sequestration hits libraries hard—with more pain to come

Overall, the 112th Congress proved to be a waiting game across the board for library supporters and others following federal legislation. According to political scholars, the 112th was the least productive Congress since what President Harry Truman called the “do-nothing Congress” of 1947–1949; by the end of the session, the 112th had passed 239 public laws, fewer than any Congress on record.

Congress did, however, manage to make significant reductions in discretionary spending, which went into effect with the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration on March 1, 2013. The sequester had been delayed as part of the deal reached in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which Congress passed and the president signed into law at year’s end, but which kicked in only after Congress and the White House could not reach an agreement on further deficit reduction.

The full effects of sequestration on libraries and their patrons will become known as time passes, but some were already painfully clear.

The budget for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), for example, has been cut by about 5%, or $12 million, which includes $7.87 million in cuts to the Library Services and Technology Act. State programs will be cut, and each state will decide how the reduced budgets will affect the library services delivered to the public, such as summer reading programs, database subscriptions, workforce development programs (including employment skills and job searching), and services to people with disabilities. Future IMLS grant-program budgets will probably be cut as well, though grants already awarded will not be affected by sequestration.

IMLS Director Susan Hildreth said innovative programs provided by libraries and museums to help schoolchildren, job-seekers, and underserved communities will probably be casualties of sequestration.

“There are a lot of good ideas we simply won’t be able to fund,” including some that would have paid dividends for decades, said Hildreth, speaking in Seattle, where she was city librarian from 2009 to 2011. “The less funding we have, the less innovation we’ll have.”

The Library of Congress also took a hit and warned its employees that the cuts would probably require four days of unpaid leave. Sequestration will also have an impact on all libraries served by their state library agencies.

Through it all, the library community and the American Library Association (ALA) continued to explore various opportunities to secure funding for libraries, all the while educating members of Congress on how libraries are playing a significant role in assisting the public during the economic downturn. The ALA Washington Office in particular met with members of Congress and reached out to staff to keep them informed of the services libraries provide to help everyday Americans.

ALA asks FCC to ensure stability of Universal Service Fund

The ALA submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the reform of the Universal Service Fund contribution mechanism. The Further Notice is part of the FCC’s effort to modernize universal service programs—including the e-rate program—so that it can efficiently bring the benefits of 21st-century broadband to the public across the country. (The e-rate program provides discounts to assist most U.S. schools and libraries in obtaining affordable telecommunications and internet access. It is funded through a fee charged to companies that provide interstate and/or international telecommunications services.)

The ALA argued that the FCC should ensure the stability of the Universal Service Fund as it addresses contribution reform so that the reforms are not disruptive to individual programs. In particular, the E-rate program depends on the fund’s stability in order for libraries and schools to provide internet-enabled services to the public. Demand on the fund continues to climb as libraries include more programs and services that require high-capacity broadband connections, such as video conferencing and mobile computer labs.

ALA signs on to Inter-Agency Collaboration on Learning

ALA President Maureen Sullivan joined then–Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and representatives of several other government agencies and organizations in signing a “Declaration of Learning,” a statement that formally announced their partnership as members of the Inter-Agency Collaboration on Learning.

Signed on January 30, 2013, on the Treaty of Paris Desk at the Department of State, the declaration recognizes participating institutions for their commitment to using historic artifacts in their collections to create digital learning tools for students and educators.

IMLS Director Hildreth also signed the declaration, along with David Ferriero, archivist of the United States. Other institutions participating in the Inter-Agency Collaboration on Education include the Library of Congress, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Newseum, the National Center for Literacy Education, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the U.S. Department of State.

Senator Jack Reed honored at National Library Legislative Day

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D–R.I.) was made an honorary member of the American Library Association in a ceremony that took place April 23, 2012, during National Library Legislative Day in Washington, D.C. Reed, a longtime champion of public libraries, received the honor for his continuing and unwavering support of libraries in Congress. Reed sponsored every major piece of library legislation as a member of the House and of the Senate for the past 22 years.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Reed overcame efforts to zero out library funding and delivered $28.6 million in competitive grants for school libraries and literacy programs in the 2012 appropriations law.

Honorary membership, the ALA’s highest honor, recognizes outstanding contributions of lasting importance to libraries and librarianship.

“Andrew Carnegie, a great Honorary ALA member, once said: ‘A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert,’” Reed said. “I agree. Libraries play a central role, not just in education but also as a place where the community can come together, a source of common ground and knowledge. And today, with more people turning to libraries as a technology and job hunting resource, libraries are more important than ever.”

In addition, Carl A. Harvey II, 2011–2012 president of the American Association of School Librarians, presented Reed with the Crystal Apple award, which recognizes individuals or groups who have had significant impact on school libraries and students.

More than 350 librarians and library supporters convened for National Library Legislative Day, which began with preconference sessions—also known as “new participant training”—hosted by United for Libraries: Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends, and Foundations and the ALA Washington Office. Advocacy Associates representative Stephanie Vance facilitated the session with ALA Grassroots Coordinator Ted Wegner and Lynne Bradley, director of the ALA’s Office of Government Relations. More than 50 attendees received tips on the right things to say and do in meetings with members of Congress and on strategies to build and maintain advocacy efforts at home.

Library advocate Louis “Buzz” Carmichael of Lexington, Kentucky, was recognized with the White House Conference on Library and Information Services Taskforce Award for his commitment to supporting the nation’s libraries. The annual award, given to a nonlibrarian participating in National Library Legislative Day for the first time, is a stipend granted to help reduce the cost of attending the event.

Reed redirects and restores funding for school libraries

From 2002 to 2010, the Improving Literacy through School Libraries program under the U.S. Department of Education was the source for federal funding of school libraries. However, in recent years, the president and Congress have either consolidated or zero-funded this program to the point that it was not funded at all in fiscal 2011 (October 1, 2010–September 30, 2011) or in fiscal year 2012. In 2011, Sen. Jack Reed, feeling that school libraries needed a direct funding source in the federal budget, used the fiscal 2012 appropriations bill to redirect the money to the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program, also in the Department of Education.

The program was appropriated $28.6 million, of which by law at least half ($14.3 million) was to be allocated to a competitive grant program for underserved school libraries. The remaining money was to be allocated to competitive grants for national not-for-profit organizations that work to improve childhood literacy. The first-year grants from this program were announced on September 28, 2012.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren wins 2012 James Madison Award

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D–Calif.) was named recipient of the James Madison Award, one of the ALA’s highest honors, at a ceremony in March 2012 during a National Freedom of Information Day conference held at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Lofgren was recognized both for her commitment to sponsoring legislation that strengthens the public’s right to access information and her opposition to legislation that impedes First Amendment rights.

Lofgren is a cosponsor of the Federal Research Public Access Act, a bill that seeks to improve access to federally funded research. She also fought against the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would require internet service providers to police users’ activities in an attempt to combat online infringement overseas.

The James Madison Award, named in honor of President James Madison, was established by the ALA in 1986 to honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected, and promoted public access to government information and the public’s “right to know” on the national level. The award is presented annually on the anniversary of Madison’s birth, March 16.

Advocacy on the go

The ALA has partnered with Mobile Commons, a mobile phone marketing and outreach provider, to launch a new text-message alert and advocacy service for librarians. The opt-in service allows the ALA’s Office of Government Relations to communicate advocacy messages quickly and effectively using an innovative texting and calling feature. By texting the word “library” to “877877,” users will be able to call legislators to discuss particular issues toll-free through Mobile Commons. The text messages will provide subscribers with talking points on issues before automatically transferring the advocates to the offices of their legislators.

Award recognizes 133 years of Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract

Thomas Mesenbourg, deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau, was honored August 30, 2012, with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). 2012 was the last year that the Census Bureau released the Statistical Abstract, and RUSA wanted to honor those 133 years of ensuring that the public had access to government information through this resource. Jack O’Gorman, chair of RUSA’s Dartmouth Medal Committee, presented the award.

 

The State of America's Libraries 2013