Federal support for libraries: good news, bad news
At the ALA’s Annual Conference in New Orleans, First Lady Laura Bush announced $20,869,145 in librarian recruitment and education grants from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The grants are designed to help offset a shortage of school library media specialists, library school faculty and librarians working in underserved communities, as well as a looming shortage of library directors and other senior librarians, many of whom are expected to retire in the next 20 years.
In 2003, with a shortage of professional librarians on the horizon, the First Lady had called on the IMLS to help recruit “a new generation of librarians” through a special funding initiative. Since then, the Librarians for the 21st Century program has funded 1,537 master’s degree students, 119 doctoral students, 660 pre-professional students and 378 continuing education students.
Mrs. Bush has also been actively involved in restoring storm-damaged school libraries through the Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative of the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries. In late November, the foundation announced $1 million in grants through the initiative to 20 schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Texas. These grants were in addition to the grants to 20 other schools in Louisiana and Mississippi earlier in the year and brought the total grants awarded to more than $2 million in the first eight months of the initiative.
Also at the federal level, the 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s signature on the Library Services Act of 1956 saw the allocation of $210.6 million for library programs, an increase of 2.3 percent from fiscal 2005; and President Bush also proposed increases for fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2008 under what is now known as the Library Services and Technology Act of 1996.
However, President Bush’s proposed 2007 budget also cut $2 million from the $2.5 million fund for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s network of libraries, and the EPA began closing regional libraries without waiting on Congressional action. Initially blaming it on the budget cut but then calling it part of a plan to grant “broader access to a larger audience” by digitizing library materials and putting them on its Website, the EPA shut library doors in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City, and five other libraries reduced access or closed.
Attendees at several ALA Midwinter Meeting sessions in January 2007 sounded off to EPA officials. One EPA official responded, “We are very interested in your input.” At the request of several members of Congress, the Government Accountability Office began an examination of the closings, and ALA President Leslie Burger was invited to testify about the EPA actions at a February hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Finally, the so-called 65 percent solution became less of a problem in 2006. First Class Education, which in 2005 began a campaign to mandate that 65 percent of every school district budget in the nation be spent on classroom instruction, made some concessions to the library community but still opposes rewriting the 30-year-old NCES definition of classroom instruction to include librarians, who are grouped with food, transportation and other non-instructional staff.Coloradovoters rejected two separate ballot measures that would have required school districts to funnel a minimum of 65 percent of their budgets directly into classrooms.
In 10 other states, 65 percent solution measures were rejected or died for lack of legislative action or lack of funding; measures were withdrawn from consideration in three other states for various reasons. By early 2007, the 65 percent solution had been approved in only three states: Georgia and Kansas, by legislative action, and Texas, by executive order.
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