School libraries across the country are no strangers to budgetary pinches. But if President Trump’s budget goes through as proposed, these libraries—and many other organizations that support education and the arts—could be looking at a lot less funding in coming years. In addition to significant cuts to programs in the U.S. Education Department, the budget proposes the wholesale elimination of numerous federal agencies, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Other programs that would see cuts include the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and other agencies whose portfolios are concerned with arts, culture, and education.
After its announcement earlier this month, the administration’s first proposed budget was largely moved to the back burner while Congress concentrated on efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. With those efforts now scuttled, the spotlight could return to the President’s many controversial budget proposals.
Federal cuts will impact local institutions
For more on the reactions—and actions—of the education community to the Trump administration’s policies, see “Librarians Mobilize for Equity Under the Trump Administration.”
While school and local libraries are locally funded, they would be likely to feel the impact of federal budget cuts in other ways. Much of the IMLS support to libraries in all 50 states comes as grants from the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), which provides federal funds for projects that might help students, but aren’t budgeted for in a library’s everyday ledgers.
SLJ has detailed some of these projects, such as efforts to aid the education of autistic students in Utah libraries and Lunch at the Library programs, that help to make sure kids who depend on free school lunches are fed even when school is out. Without IMLS grants, such programs could die on the vine.
“LSTA funds allow the California Library Association (CLA) to provide public libraries with resources, including in-person and online training, evaluation tools, summer-focused research, and programming resources, that help large and small library systems alike run high quality themed summer reading and learning programs for all Californians,” says CLA programs manager Patricia Garone. “The elimination of IMLS funds would be felt by a wide range of library users.”
While they don’t get many direct IMLS grants, school libraries won’t be spared the sting of cuts to the organization, says Beth Yoke, executive director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). That’s because many state libraries use IMLS funds in support of tools that help a broad range of libraries.
“School libraries benefit from the statewide resources that LSTA funds support. Most state libraries, for example, provide a statewide online library system featuring a wealth of databases. School libraries can leverage these instead of having to purchase their own,” says Yoke. “State libraries also use LSTA funds for a range of things beneficial to school libraries, like providing library services to the blind, as well as continuing education for librarians.”
School libraries in particular could also be forced to tighten their belts as cuts to the Education Department leave fewer federal grants available for schools.
what to do to stop the proposal from becoming reality
The good news for libraries is that, for the moment, this budget remains a proposal—not practice. Presidential budgets are seen by many political observers as “wish lists,” serving to demonstrate an administration’s values by cutting—or boosting—line items.
Actual control over the federal purse strings, though, remains in Congress. A variety of Capitol Hill watchers have suggested that the depths of the cuts made by this budget, and the fact that they would be more than offset by increases in other areas, such as defense spending, has some legislators feeling uneasy.
If they’ve got you feeling uneasy, too, ALA president Julie Todaro has some advice. Speak up, and start immediately.
“In order to win this fight and save IMLS, we need to do the three following things. First is to get involved now, at the earliest point in the budget process,” Todaro says. “The second is to stay involved continuously through December of this year. And the third is to increase the number of reach-outs to the stakeholders and legislatures five-fold.”
One thing you can, and should, do today, Yoke says, is to reach out to your Representative with “Dear Appropriator Letters” that help members of Congress decide how to prioritize funding.
“It is critical that thousands of library staff and library supporters contact their Representatives in the House by April 3 and ask them to sign the Dear Appropriator Letters for the Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL),” Yoke says.
And the work doesn’t end there. Later in April, library supporters should repeat the process all over in the Senate.
To get in contact with your legislators and find tips on how to lobby for libraries, you can visit the ALA’s clearinghouse site.
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