For the fourth year in a row, President Trump has released a proposed budget that eliminates funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL), two major sources of federal funds for academic, public, and school libraries; museums; and early literacy programs. IMLS funding includes funds for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), the only source of dedicated federal funding for all kinds of libraries. But all is not lost. For the last three years, a bipartisan Congress has responded to constituents who indicated they want federal funding for cultural institutions, libraries, and schools to continue and funded IMLS, LSTA, and IAL. We must continue to speak up for the children and families we serve—they deserve strong libraries.
This year, ALA is asking that Congress provide funding of at least $206 million for LSTA and $27 million for IAL. Funding LSTA at $206 million would provide at least $1 million to each state without reducing funds granted to larger states. While funding IAL at $27 million does not provide money for each state, it does allow for competitive grants at the national level. These two important funding sources allow “more than 116,000 public, school, academic, government, and other libraries to advance employment, entrepreneurship, education, empowerment, and engagement in communities across America” (ALA 2020).
What can you do?
First, identify the best time(s) to reach out to your legislators. ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office has prepared extensive materials to support you in your library advocacy efforts. ALA recommends advocates speak up during three specific times:
- when “Dear Appropriator” letters circulate for legislators to sign on indicating their support;
- when appropriations committees write bills and set specific funding levels; and
- when the bills go to the Senate and House chambers for votes.
Throughout the process, legislative staff members meet with constituents, lobbyists, and advocates and field correspondence, phone calls, and social media transactions, noting support or opposition to specific issues. Did you know it only takes 30 comments about a specific issue on social media to get the attention of a congressional office (Wagner, Klatt, and Pittman 2020)?
Next, learn about your legislators’ positions and interests and tailor your library story and request for funding to their interests. Librarians in general, and school librarians specifically, must be prepared to educate legislators about our work. During the ALA Congressional Fly-In on February 10–11, 2020, David Lusk, a consultant and trainer for grassroots advocacy, explained that of the 535 legislators on Capitol Hill, only 93 have an educational background. None have library experience (2020). With no knowledge of our industry, how can we expect them to make informed decisions? We must educate and build support by establishing common ground with our senators and representatives and by telling stories about our impact on their constituents that will resonate with them. It is not that big a lift; each of us has only two senators and one representative, and all of us have lots of stories!
To establish common ground, do some research about your legislators; their web pages are great sources of information. Next, use ALA’s Fund Libraries Campaign page to determine their prior support of library funding. Use the interactive table to find out if your legislators signed onto “Dear Appropriator” letters or voted for IMLS funding.
Finally, take action.
- Craft a message and use your legislator’s web page to share your thoughts.
- Write a letter to the editor. ALA has created a useful guide that provides a template for a letter to an editor and outlines reasons why letters to the editor are effective.
- Tweet your thanks for prior support and request continued support for strong libraries. Tag your legislators in the tweet and use the hashtags #FundLibraries and #ALAadvocacy.
- Invite your legislator to visit your library. ALA’s “Arrange a Congressional Tour of Your Library” website offers tips on planning a congressional visit.
When we share stories about how libraries change lives we advocate for the children and families we serve. Our communities deserve strong libraries.
ALA. 2020. “Federal Funding for Libraries.” <http://www.ala.org/advocacy/sites/ala.org.advocacy/files/content/libfunding/FundLibrariesOnePager2020.pdf> (accessed Feb. 19, 2020).
Lusk, David. 2020. “Becoming a More Persuasive Advocate: Framing Your Message.” Presentation during ALA Congressional Fly-In, Feb. 10, 2020.
Wagner, Emily, Vic Klatt, Audrey Pittman. 2020. “Setting the Stage and Understanding the Appropriations Process.” Presentation during ALA Congressional Fly-In, Feb. 10, 2020.