Throughout 2019, ALA has been engaged in several key activities geared to not only promoting the value of libraries and librarians, but also to offering grant money to libraries in support of programs such as Libraries Ready to Code and Libraries Build Business. Both programs aim to help public libraries advocate for critical digital skill sets. Learn more about Libraries Ready to Code here, and read on for more on ALA’s latest initiatives.
Libraries Build Business
Libraries Build Business aims to enhance library programs for “low-income and/or underrepresented entrepreneurs” so they can grow their businesses, thereby giving back to the communities that libraries serve. Google funded the program with a $2 million grant, and on Nov. 21, ALA announced that it opened the application process through which it will select “10-14 U.S. public libraries to further develop existing entrepreneurship programs. … [The Google] grant—made as part of the tech company’s Grow with Google initiative to create opportunity to all—will also create learning resources for any library to support entrepreneurs in its community.”
ALA asks that applicants complete the first part of a two-stage application process by Dec. 13. Applications will then be screened in order to select a group of libraries that will be asked to submit a full application. “The selection committee will be comprised of representatives from the Public Library Association, the ALA Public Policy and Advocacy Office, and the ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services. Successful applicants have a documented commitment to and history of providing robust programming and services to low-income and underrepresented groups in their community,” according to the press release.
It is initiatives like these that are truly needed to realign libraries as more than centers for books and to help their patrons and communities reimagine the value they provide.
High-speed broadband access does not come cheap, making its affordability difficult for people with low incomes and in rural and remote areas as well as for many public libraries and K–12 schools. ALA advocates for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate program, also called the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries. According to ALA, it “provides discounts to public libraries as well as K-12 schools on telecommunications services, internet access, Wi-Fi equipment, and some closely related costs like internal cabling. E-rate has played a pivotal role in helping libraries connect their users to the Internet. In 2014, the FCC adopted two sweeping orders to modernize the E-rate program. In addition to raising the program’s annual spending cap to $3.9 billion, the FCC approved regulations prioritizing broadband and Wi-Fi and encouraging competition in the marketplace by allowing support for libraries to build their own networks.”
Preserving and potentially expanding this program are important positions for ALA—the organization “endorses legislation and policies that aim to improve access to the E-rate program and empower libraries to provide online opportunities for all Americans.”
Promotion Campaigns and Helping With the Census
In addition to the ALA Policy Corps—created by ALA past president Jim Neal in October 2017—which works directly with government entities to share the value of librarians and library services with policyholders, ALA launched Fund Libraries, a campaign for promoting the value of libraries and librarians to members of Congress. A Fund Libraries Media Toolkit provides information on approaches to speaking with journalists and local media entities who have access to government officials.
The 2020 census will impact libraries—whether in helping individuals participate in the census or ensuring that it is conducted accurately and fairly. ALA’s 2020 census guide is available here.
Last, but certainly not least, is ALA’s response to Macmillan Publishers’ new ebook lending model—introduced in July and effective Nov. 1—whereby on release of a new Macmillan ebook, a library may initially only purchase one copy. An 8-week embargo applies to any additional purchases of that same ebook. ALA president Wanda Brown states, “Limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries.” She continues, “When a library serving many thousands has only a single copy of a new title in ebook format, it’s the library—not the publisher—that feels the heat. It’s the local library that’s perceived as being unresponsive to community needs.”
ALA asserts in another statement that it “has frequently requested but never received data or analysis that demonstrates that library lending undermines book sales. It is simply false to state otherwise.” In October, ALA sponsored and sent a petition that has already garnered 160,000-plus signatures to Macmillan’s CEO, John Sargent. According to ALA, to date, no response has been received from the publisher. Either way, ALA will continue to lobby government officials, community members, authors, and other interested parties to reinforce the unfair aspect of Macmillan’s decision.
Expect even more advocacy in 2020. ALA is an extremely active organization with a clear understanding of the value its constituents contribute to their communities. Alan Inouye, ALA’s senior director of public policy and government relations, clearly summarizes not only the efforts of the association, but also what to expect in the year to come:
There are numerous opportunities for libraries to demonstrate our value and our critical role in ensuring access to information for everyone in America. On the horizon for 2020 are the decennial Census, ongoing efforts to defend access to digital content, the annual #FundLibraries campaign, and grants to boost entrepreneurship programs, not to mention the November elections.
If we’ve seen anything in 2019, it’s that people in the library community are more passionate than ever about their mission. ALA is ahead of the game on public policy issues that impact libraries. Our expertise and leadership in Washington are much more than a PR campaign. Along with library professionals across the country, ALA offers policymakers and influencers practical insight and substance to make decisions that benefit the public interest. We’re putting libraries on the national agenda.