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Library of Congress

Federal spending bill has plusses and minuses for libraries

President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill in January that will fund the federal government through September and partially restore funding to the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA)—the primary source of annual funding for libraries in the federal budget—that were dramatically cut in FY2013 under sequestration.

The total appropriated for the LSTA increased from $175 million to $181 million for FY2014. Each state will determine how it will allocate its LSTA funds; many states rely on the funding to provide job searching databases, résumé workshops, summer reading activities, among other things.

Other specifics from the spending bill:

  • Grants to state programs increased from $150 million to $154 million.
  • National Leadership grants increased from $11.4 million to $12.2 million.
  • Laura Bush 21st-Century Librarian grants remained at $10 million.
  • Native American and Hawaiian Library Services increased from almost $3.7 million to almost $3.9 million.
  • But Innovative Approaches to Literacy—a competitive grant under the Department of Education that requires that half the funds go to low-income school libraries—took an 8.8% hit. The program was appropriated at $25 million in fiscal 2014, a $2.4 million cut from the previous year. Local education agencies in low-income areas can compete for the grant to help update school libraries with books and other materials.

The spending bill included language that supports open access—a win for libraries and for public access to federally-funded information. The federal agencies under the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education portion of the bill with research budgets of $100 million or more will be required to provide online access of articles that report on federally funded research. Federal agencies must make articles published in peer-reviewed journals publicly accessible within a year of publication. While this represents a gain, the fact is that only a little more than half the annual U.S. investment in taxpayer-funded research, $31 billion of the annual $60 billion, will be accessible.

One-two punch: Sequestration and shutdown

The U.S. federal government shutdown in October 2013 had an impact on library services nationwide. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) was unable to disperse grants and funds to libraries as part of the Library Services and Technology Act. The Government Printing Office and U.S. Census websites and many other government websites and collection surveys were unavailable until the government reopened. The Library of Congress was closed to the public and researchers for the duration of the shutdown, which occurred after Congress failed to compromise on a continuing resolution to fund the government.

But the shutdown seemed only to be adding insult to injury. Months earlier, in March, sequestration—automatic cuts to all federal discretionary programs—went into effect after Congress could not reach an agreement on a deficit-reduction plan. Sequestration affected all libraries served by state library agencies. The IMLS budget was cut by $12 million, or 5.2 percent; that included $7.9 million in cuts to the Library Services and Technology Act. The Library of Congress, whose services range from copyrighting written works to the collection, preservation, and digitization of millions of books and other materials, also faced deep cuts.

The Senate says: No school library left behind

Congress continued its struggle to pass reauthorization legislation for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), formerly known as “No Child Left Behind,” which directly affects many federal K–12 education programs. The ESEA was scheduled to be reauthorized in 2009.

When the ESEA is finally reauthorized, it will dictate K–12 education policy at all levels of government for many years to come, so it is not surprising that the library and education communities both see the inclusion of school libraries into ESEA reauthorization as a matter of vital importance. In 2002, school libraries were left out as a federal requirement under No Child Left Behind; as a result, many school libraries were the first to be eliminated when schools were faced with budget cuts in recent years.

The Senate has passed an ESEA bill, called the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, that authorizes a new school library program. The bill would provide dedicated funding to support effective school library programs that:

  • Are staffed by a state-certified or licensed school librarian.
  • Have up-to-date books, materials, equipment, and technology (including broadband).
  • Include regular collaboration among classroom teachers and school librarians to assist with development and implementation of the curriculum and other school reform efforts.
  • Support the development of digital literacy skills.

The Senate ESEA bill also authorizes a new literacy program that would make public library programs eligible for grants to provide children from birth through kindergarten with literacy instruction. In addition, the bill authorizes a librarian to serve as a member of the a state literacy leadership team and requires that a state receiving a grant work to strengthen partnerships among schools, libraries, and other programs to improve literacy for all children.

The House  ESEA bill passed on a 221–207 vote, with no Democratic votes in support and 12 Republicans voting nay. The House bill does not include provisions that would provide dedicated funding for school or public libraries.

ALA joins others in objecting to NSA surveillance program

In the wake of the June 2013 revelation that the National Security Agency is gathering data on millions unsuspecting Americans (and not a few world leaders), the American Library Association joined an unprecedented coalition of Internet companies and advocates to deliver a letter to the U.S. government demanding greater transparency around national security–related surveillance of Internet and telephone communications. Key civil liberties organizations and major companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Twitter joined the effort, along with dozens of other companies and organizations, both large and small.

The ALA also launched “Liberty, Privacy & Surveillance,” a website that contains tools libraries can use to host educational sessions and public forums that help Americans understand their First and Fourth Amendment rights. The website contains guides and tip sheets for libraries interested in informing members of the public about their civil liberties. The tools provide an overview of the deliberative process and outlines ways that the public can demand government oversight and transparency from legislators.

In the same week in December, the surveillance reform debate was enjoined in all three branches of government:

  • Executive: In December, President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies released a report calling for transparency, online security tools, and organizational reforms to the NSA.
  • Legislative: The ALA joined more than 50 businesses, civil liberties groups, and public-interest organizations in opposing the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Improvements Act, a bill that will legalize and extend NSA mass surveillance programs. Others objecting to the bill include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, PEN American Center, and TechFreedom.
  • Judicial: District of Columbia District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA’s surveillance practices violate First and Fourth Amendments guarantees of the Constitution. One week later, a district court in New York found just the opposite, ruling that the bulk collection of telephone data does not violate the Constitution. Observers expect the issue will work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In January, ALA President Barbara Stripling called for permanent changes to the NSA data collection program. Additionally, she called for support for the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would improve the balance between terrorism prevention and personal privacy protection. The USA Freedom Act—its full name is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring Act—would place restrictions on bulk phone and Internet government surveillance and permit companies to make public the number of FISA orders and National Security Letters received.

Federal judge strikes down law authorizing NSLs

A federal judge in San Francisco struck down the law authorizing the FBI to issue the so-called National Security Letters (NSL), writing that the prohibition on disclosure of receipt of an NSL made the entire statute “impermissibly overbroad” under the First Amendment. The ALA, the ACLU, and many other organizations and individuals have long objected to the NSLs, which are authorized under the USA Patriot Act of 2001. Judge Susan Illston of Federal District Court in San Francisco then stayed implementation of her ruling to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to appeal the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit.

Rep. Fortenberry Honored at National Library Legislative Day

Hundreds of librarians and library supporters from across the country—375 to be exact, from 48 of the 50 states—traveled to Washington, D.C., in May 2013 to meet with members of Congress to discuss key library issues during the ALA’s 39th annual National Library Legislative Day. The event focused on supporting federal funding for national libraries. Advocates discussed the need to fund the Library Services and Technology Act, support legislation that gives people who use libraries access to federally-funded scholarly journal articles, and continue providing school libraries with funds for materials.

Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebr.) was presented with United for Libraries’ Public Service Award. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Ariz.) were among the other legislators who attended the ALA’s congressional reception. Those who could not attend National Library Legislative Day in person were able to contact Congress as part of Virtual Library Legislative Day. More than 1,400 calls and emails were directed toward Capitol Hill as part of this effort.

As part of the week-long activities, the IMLS arranged a meeting to bring together library leaders with President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council staff. Attendees included Maureen Sullivan, then-ALA President; Carolyn Brodie, then-president, Association for Library Service to Children; Mary Wells, domestic policy assistant for the Obama administration; Susan Hildreth, IMLS director; Jack Martin, then-president, Young Adult Library Services Association; Steve Robinson, staff member, Domestic Policy Council; Eva Poole, then-president, Public Library Association; and Mandy Cohen, staff member, Department of Health and Human Services.

James Madison Award bestowed on Aaron Swartz posthumously

The ALA posthumously honored Aaron Swartz with the James Madison Award for his dedication to promoting and protecting public access to research and government information. Before his death in January, Swartz was an outspoken advocate for public participation in government and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly articles. Swartz was a cofounder of Demand Progress, an advocacy group that organizes people to take action on civil liberties and government reform issues. ALA President, Maureen Sullivan presented the award to Swartz’s family during the 15th Annual Freedom of Information Day, held March 15, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

ALA pushes FCC to accelerate deployment of broadband

Throughout the fall of 2013, ALA asked the Federal Communications Commission to accelerate deployment of the high-speed broadband needed to serve students and learners of all ages through our nation’s libraries and schools. ALA called for new E-rate funding to jumpstart and sustain high-capacity broadband connections that support digital learning and economic development through libraries and schools.

Kirtsaeng decision: Goods made overseas are protected by the first-sale doctrine

In a high-profile case dealing with consumer rights and libraries, the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013 ruled that goods lawfully made overseas are protected by the first-sale doctrine. (The first-sale doctrine limits certain rights of a copyright or trademark owner and enables the distribution of copyrighted products through, for example, library lending.) The case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., focused on whether Americans and businesses had the right to sell, lend, or give away things they own that were made overseas. The case centered on a graduate student, Supap Kirtsaeng, who bought textbooks published by Wiley in Thailand and sold them online in the United States. Wiley sued Kirtsaeng, claiming that the right of first sale did not apply because the books were manufactured overseas.

When the case reached the high court, Associate Justice Steven Breyer wrote for the majority: “The American Library Association tells us that [U.S.] library collections contain at least 200 million books published abroad. How can they find, say, the copyright owner of a foreign book, perhaps written decades ago? . . . Are the libraries to stop circulating or distributing or displaying the millions of books in their collections that were printed abroad?”


The State of America's Libraries 2013