Testimony of Keith Michael Fiels








MARCH 20, 2003

I am Keith Michael Fiels, and I have been asked to share with you, in my capacity as Executive Director of the American Library Association, a status report on libraries in America, their critical importance to communities and the dire funding situations that beset them.

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, and is composed of thirteen divisions and among its 65,000 members are public, academic, and school librarians, library trustees, members of the library business community and friends of libraries.

Since the beginning days of the current recession, our association has heard from large and small libraries across the country as budgets have tightened and cuts have begun. Last spring, the large Seattle Public Library System closed altogether for two weeks as a way to keep personnel and limit the severe impact on library users. As the stories have continued to roll in, it has become clear to us that we must speak out about the toll of budget cuts on schools, campuses and communities nationwide. Millions of people use the library each year, but without adequate support, the critical resources that they depend on may disappear.

There has never been a greater need to ensure that our nation's - and this community's - libraries do not fall victim to budget cuts. States will be working to erase at least a $17.5 billion shortfall between now and the end of the fiscal year. Two-thirds of the states report revenue collections below forecasted levels in the early months of the fiscal year. Nearly every state has a balanced budget requirement. Libraries are competing with a variety of programs ranging from nature centers to combating the threat of domestic terrorism. While the majority of people support and use libraries, libraries can be taken for granted and even overlooked when funding is being allocated. As a former State Librarian of Massachusetts, I know well the difficult choices that have to be made, but I am here today to reiterate the importance of the services that libraries provide. We must Save America's Libraries.

Today's libraries are dynamic, modern community centers for learning, information and entertainment. As information becomes the great equalizer in today's society, libraries play an increasingly critical role in leveling the playing field by providing free access to technology and information resources to everyone. In this city, the young people have access to new technology, career information, college and scholarship information through their libraries, but only if the doors remain open, and investment remains strong.

Reducing funding to our libraries hurts everyone in the community, but especially children and students. Studies show that two-thirds of households with children under the age of 18 reported using their public library in the past month. With help from the Gates Foundation and technology grants from the E-rate program, libraries have stepped up to the challenge and are providing easy access and training in new technology. Without continued support, the digital divide may widen again.

Reducing funding to our libraries has a disproportionate impact on low income families and seniors. Over 90% of those surveyed believe libraries are places of opportunity for education, self-help and access to technology. Shortening library hours or reducing programs and services will hurt those who have the least access to such resources outside the library. Studies show that when the economy goes down, public library use goes up. Libraries provide valuable job information and help job-seekers prepare resumes and apply for jobs. Libraries also provide information and reference sources for those seeking to start a small business. Don't close off this valuable resource to the community. We must Save America's Libraries.

As you undertake the difficult task of cutting programs for residents of this community, please continue to ensure that libraries play a vital role in informing and educating everyone. At the local library, there are resources that explain the budget process and guides to how the budget decisions are made. Individuals can become more informed voters and citizens by spending time at the local public, school or college library.

Your library is worth as much to your community as any bridge, road or utility in town. Your library plays a part in informing, educating and helping individuals, families, children and youth. In these difficult times, the library provides information on security issues and offers the community a place to research countless areas of concern.

We owe it to ourselves and to our quality of life, to continue to support library systems everywhere-it is in our