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The Corporate Committee for Library Investment Defends Libraries to Congress
Posted On June 13, 2017
According to the American Library Association (ALA), there are approximately 119,487 libraries of various types in the U.S. today, including public, academic, school, special, armed forces, and government libraries. These libraries may differ by audience, but in each case, they exist to promote lifelong learning and literacy.

The funding for public and school libraries is based on state and local taxes, levies, and federal funding. Libraries, particularly public and school libraries, are currently in crisis, facing extreme budgetary challenges as the current administration hopes to eliminate key federal funding support programs, most notably the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy Program (IAL). The following are descriptions of these critical programs and their funding resources:

  • The mission of IMLS is “to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, learning and civic engagement by providing leadership through research, policy development and grant-making. With [its] strategic plan, IMLS builds on its solid foundation and targets five strategic goals. The goals focus on achieving positive public outcomes for communities and individuals; supporting the unique role of museums and libraries in preserving and providing access to collections and content; and promoting library, museum, and information service policies that ensure access to information for all Americans.”
  • “The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) is the only federal program exclusively for libraries. It is administered by [IMLS]. State libraries use the funds to support statewide initiatives and also distribute the funds through subgrants or cooperative agreements to public, school, academic, research, and special libraries. There is a requirement for a state match, which helps stimulate approximately three to four dollars for every federal dollar invested. LSTA consolidates federal library programs while expanding services for learning and access to information resources in all types of libraries for individuals of all ages. LSTA links libraries electronically and helps provide users access to information through state, regional, national, and international networks. In many states, the state library network provides enriched content databases for information access to all in the state.”
  • “The IAL program supports high-quality programs designed to develop and improve literacy skills for children and students from birth through 12th grade in high-need local educational agencies (high-need LEAs, as defined in the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA)) and schools. The Department intends to support innovative programs that promote early literacy for young children, motivate older children to read, and increase student achievement by using school libraries as partners to improve literacy, distributing free books to children and their families, and offering high-quality literacy activities. Many schools and districts across the Nation do not have school libraries that deliver high-quality literacy programming to children and their families. Additionally, many schools do not have qualified library media specialists and library facilities. Where facilities do exist, they often lack adequate books and other materials and resources. In many communities, high-need children have limited access to appropriate age- and grade-level reading material in their homes.”

Since 2001, ALA has worked with the members of Congress to ensure passage of the budgets for these critical programs using a Dear Appropriator (DA) letter originating from a member of Congress—a representative or senator, according to an ALA spokesperson, “who cares enough about an issue to 1) ask the members of the appropriations committee to support funding for that issue, and 2) round up as many of their colleagues as they can to sign onto the letter. So, it’s a letter signed by members of Congress to their colleagues on the appropriations committee. There are dozens and dozens of such letters on various issues in the House and the Senate, so there’s a lot of competition for signatures. In this current case, ALA’s members around the country have been urging their senators to sign onto the dear appropriator letter from Senator Reed’s office” that requests full funding for LSTA and IAL in FY2018.

Corporations Speak Out

Given the current administration’s seeming lack of support for programs such as these and the ongoing budget battle over IMLS, this year’s DA letter program added an additional element: corporate signatures. In May 2017, a group of information, software, publishing, and other businesses launched the Corporate Committee for Library Investment (CCLI) as a mechanism to advocate for library funding.

Paul Gazzolo, SVP and general manager of Gale, describes how this effort was conceived:

At the ALA Midwinter [Meeting], I first heard the rumors that library funding was being targeted for federal budget cuts along with arts and culture programs. My initial reaction is that libraries—in communities, schools and universities—are critical infrastructure of the knowledge economy. It’s not only about employing librarians; it’s about how libraries empower workers, students, and researchers with knowledge they otherwise could not access. I reached out to the ALA to start a conversation on how to get this message out, and they welcomed the support. Over the last few months we’ve worked to rally the business community and mobilize our employees across the U.S. There’s strength in numbers, which have grown rapidly as dozens of companies have joined the effort and come together as the CCLI. We now have a bigger collective voice to educate lawmakers and the public about the economic and educational value of libraries and the deleterious effect of a funding cut.

Julie Todaro, current president of ALA, reaffirms the importance of this alliance:

The Administration’s budget is using the wrong math when it comes to libraries. To those who say that the nation cannot afford federal library funding, the American Library Association, American businesses and millions of Americans say emphatically we cannot afford to be without it. America’s more than 120,000 public, school, academic and special libraries are visited more than 1.4 billion times a year by hundreds of millions of Americans in every corner of the nation. In 2013, 94 percent of Americans said that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community and the same percentage of parents said that libraries are important for their children.

The CCLI now numbers more than 90 companies and trade associations (Information Today, Inc. is also a member). Adam Eisgrau, managing director of the ALA’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) in Washington, D.C., suggested that the “first specific action this group could take was to send a letter to all senators asking them to sign onto the DA letter sponsored by Senator Reed et. al.” On May 25, Sen. Reed’s staffers delivered the DA letters of support for LSTA and for IAL to the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The LSTA letter was signed by 45 senators, and the IAL letter was signed by 37 senators. Kevin Maher, the OGR’s assistant director, posted on the ALA Washington Office’s District Dispatch that “not only were both letters bipartisan but also that the IAL total equals the previous high-water mark for the program set in 2013 and the LSTA total sets a new record!” The post provides more stats about the letters:

  • This year’s LSTA total of 45 tops last year’s support level by 33% and IAL’s by just under 20%
  • Both the LSTA and IAL letters were bipartisan
  • Every Democrat on the critical “Labor H” appropriations subcommittee signed both letters …
  • 10 returning senators signed the LSTA letter who had not signed last year: Feinstein, Bennet, Carper, Nelson, Donnelly, Heitkamp, Udall, Casey, Kaine, and Warner
  • All 5 freshman Democrats signed the LSTA letter (Harris, Duckworth, Van Hollen, Hassan, and Cortez Masto), and all but Duckworth also signed the IAL letter
  • Every Democrat not in an “abstaining” leadership position signed the LSTA letter …
  • 6 returning senators signed the IAL letter who had not signed last year: Coons, Collins, Merkley, Warner, Cantwell, and Manchin

Hopefully, this bodes well for the future of these critical library programs, and the associative budgets will be passed reinstating their funding. The battle is not over yet, but as Gazzolo says:

To borrow a phrase, failure is not an option. From both fiscal and social perspectives, killing Federal library funding makes no sense. The IMLS very efficiently distributes LSTA grants on pro rata population basis, which is often matched by state funds. These funds allow State libraries to distribute braille materials for [the] visually disabled and to support statewide electronic databases to provide all citizens with access to information for finding jobs, starting companies and excelling in school. Due to competitive state procurement, offering similar resources at the municipal level would be astronomically more costly. These facts are resonating with the public as well as directly with lawmakers, but we are taking nothing for granted.

There are still some vehicles available for private donors to contribute, including EveryLibrary and the National Library Endowment initiative.

An expanded version of this NewsBreak appears in the July/August issue of Information Today as “The Funding Battle Is Not Over.”

Corilee Christou is president of C2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in leveraging and licensing digital content of all types to traditional and internet-based companies using new and innovative business models.

Email Corilee Christou

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