Donald Trump tried to kill the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the small but high-impact agency that has helped cash-strapped libraries offer ebooks, among many other services.
Trump failed for now. Under a congressional deal keeping the government open through the end of September—expected to be approved—the annual IMLS budget will be $231 million. That’s $1 million more than the current budget. Go here for the details (pages 55-56).
Whew! I’d expected IMLS to survive with help from an energetic lobbying campaign from the American Library Association and others. But it was dismaying even to see the battle take place. What’s more, the 2018 budget could still defund IMLS, even though the slight increase offers hope. So keep fighting!
The President’s mean-spirited attack on IMLS was and is another indication that libraries need to diversify and grow their funding. National Library Endowment, anyone? In this era of the Gates Giving Pledge, yes, the endowment is possible.
As valuable as IMLS is, it can provide just a fraction of libraries’ needs in areas ranging from family literacy to classes for the blind. Nor would the endowment be a panacea for library funding challenges. But it would help.
Harvard’s endowment is a whopping $36 billion, while library endowments in the U.S. total only several billion, according to a Wilmington Trust study.
Also saved from Trump in the budget deal, for now, were the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
No complacency, please
Don’t get smug, though, and not just because additional IMLS battles are ahead. The President’s war against art, other culture, and science—and facts and truth in general—goes on. Last week, the Trump-run Environmental Protection Agency was removing two-decades-old climate change data from the EPA Web site.
This does not augur well for data in libraries in federal agencies and maybe even in the future for IMLS-funded ebook programs for public libraries, should Trump gain more power.
Unless we’re vigilant against the unexpected—Trump himself was a surprise—the day may yet come when Washington says IMLS-aided local libraries can’t buy or rent ebooks offering abortion information or otherwise offending the wrong people.
Think this is an absolute impossibility? Well, consider that the Trump Administration has banned U.S.-supported nongovernment organizations overseas from even discussing the option of abortion with the women they are helping.
Some say Trump hopes to return us to the 1920s. I disagree. He really wants us to go 800 or 900 years further back.
(Updated to mention the need to watch the 2018 budget and keep calling Capitol Hill.)
Related: Don’t cut library funding, President Trump. Learn from Ivana’s homeland. Also check out Circulating Ideas‘s podcast interview with former IMLS Director Susan Hildreth. For more on the proposed endowment, visit LibraryEndowment.org, complete with information on how the organization would work. Related articles have appeared in the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor.