National Issues and Trends

President Obama signs the Every Students Succeeds Act

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

A major reauthorization bill overhauling K–12 education policy—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015. ESSA supports effective school library programs that will offer children new technology tools, help them develop critical thinking, and provide the reading and research skills essential to achievement in science, math, and all other STEM fields.

The act also authorizes the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program that allows the education secretary to “award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements, on a competitive basis” to promote literacy programs in low-income areas, including “developing and enhancing effective school library programs.” This puts kids from less advantaged backgrounds in a position to benefit from all the tools, reading, and research services mentioned above, including digital literacy, which effective school library programs provide. ALA members around the country should know that their unified, collective, high-impact messages to their senators and representatives helped bring about favorable provisions for school libraries specifically included in the reauthorization legislation, while also putting school libraries and school librarians front and center as critical partners.

Privacy in the digital age

For decades, librarians have defended the public’s privacy rights.The ongoing concern of libraries over privacy issues prompted several efforts aimed at protecting and securing confidential library data, including any data capable of identifying library patrons and their use of library resources.

Both the ALA and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) released guidelines on developing effective privacy protection policies for digital data. The Intellectual Freedom Committee and its Privacy Subcommittee released the Library Privacy Guidelines for E-book Lending and Digital Content Vendors, while NISO developed and released its NISO Consensus Principles on Users’ Digital Privacy in Library, Publisher, and Software Provider Systems (PDF). Both sets of guidelines highlight the fact that digital privacy cannot be maintained only by libraries; it requires the coordinated support of many.

In addition, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom announced its sponsorship of “Let’s Encrypt,” a free, automated, and open certificate authority that will allow anyone who owns a domain name—including libraries—to obtain a server certificate at zero cost, making it possible to encrypt data communications between servers and provide greater security for those using the internet for email, browsing, or other online tasks.

Federal library funding

The amount of funding that a library receives directly influences the quality of its services. While the majority of funding for libraries comes from state and local sources, federal funding provides critical assistance, giving libraries across the country the financial support they need to serve their communities.

The Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) grant program from the US Department of Education supports school libraries and nonprofit literacy organizations working to improve reading skills at the most critical early years of a child’s development. Funding for school libraries through IAL received an increase of $2 million, raising the total program funding in FY2016 to $27 million. At least half of such funding is dedicated to school libraries.

The majority of federal library program funds are distributed through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to each state. The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) is part of the annual Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill. Grants provided by LSTA are the primary source of federal funding for libraries. A majority of the funding is a population-based grant distributed to each state library agency through IMLS. States make their own determination on how to best utilize funding for their communities. Funding for LSTA will be increased in FY2016 to $182.9 million, an increase over the FY2015 level of $180.9 million.

  • Grants to states will receive an FY2016 boost to $155.8 million ($154.8 million in FY2015).

  • Funding for Native American Library Services has been raised slightly to $4.1 million ($3.9 million in FY2015).

  • National Leadership Grants for Libraries grows to $13.1 million ($12.2 million in FY2015).

  • Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian funding will stay level at $10 million.

  • Overall funding for IMLS will bump to $230 million, up slightly from $227.8 million in FY2015.

Calls to action in support of libraries

Changes in national policies impact libraries and library users. Calls to action in support of libraries—including privacy, copyright, access to government information, and network neutrality—are described below.

Privacy and surveillance. Restore the constitutional privacy rights of library users and all Americans lost to overbroad, invasive, and insufficiently “checked and balanced” provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendments, and Electronic Communications Privacy Act. For decades, librarians have defended the public’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights against government attempts to obtain patrons’ borrowing (and later internet access) records without a warrant and fought for the principle that freedom to read must not be sacrificed to security.

Copyright. Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty for the print disabled and reject unneeded changes to copyright law in any associated “implementing” legislation. The treaty will afford 4 million print-disabled Americans critical new access to copyrighted material worldwide vital to their education, work, and quality of life. US negotiators have assured that the final text is fully consistent with our law. The treaty thus can and should be ratified promptly, unencumbered by legislation to substantively amend US copyright law that will delay or derail its ratification.

Government information. Pass the bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act of 2015, S. 337, and statutorily ensure public access to unique collections held by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). It is imperative that a single repository for the unique scientific and technical collections now held by the NTIS be funded so that this information can continue to be preserved and made available to the public.

Telecommunications. Support network neutrality. Preserving an open internet is essential to freedom of speech, educational achievement, and our nation’s economic growth. Internet service providers should not be information gatekeepers.