He converted the walnut-paneled library room in the old Marjorie Merriweather Post mansion at Mar-a-Lago into a bar with his portrait. Perhaps this was just part of the transition to a club, but Trump must have enjoyed his kind of book-proofing. I doubt he’s the planet’s biggest fan of other aspects of libraries, either.
So it’s no shocker that for the third year in a row, the Trump Administration is trying to kill the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the main source of federal funds for libraries.
The Trump people have not been the only one to try. Paul Ryan, the former speaker of the house, also gave it a shot. And conservative think tanks are still at it?
Push back. Don’t take IMLS for granted at this crazy, unpredictable time. Call and email your Congress members and senators to complain. Be nice. I’ve aimed this post not at them but at my fellow library advocates upset over the would-be killing of IMLS. Keep in mind that some conservative politicians may at least publicly support Trump even while they badly want IMLS to survive. Talk about “family-friendly” places promoting social stability! That’s what libraries are.
Here’s the good news. Thanks to organizations like ALA and EveryLibrary, IMLS’s FY 2019 budget actually ended up at $242 million, a two-million-dollar increase. Democrats lost seats in the Senate last November, but now enjoy solid control of the House.
Real news, even if you haven’t read this yet in your newspaper
In a budget document released this week, Trump made his nasty intentions known by simply not mentioning IMLS and other agencies he wants doomed. But the threat is real—see Andrew Albanese’s Publisher’s Weekly story. Shawnda Hines, an ALA spokesperson, tells me that, yes, the word on the Hill leaves no doubt about the administration’s intentions:
The White House budget proposal has been delayed this year by several weeks due to the unprecedented 35-day government shutdown and is being delivered in two parts. Precise numbers for most independent agencies, including IMLS, will be officially released on Monday. In addition to public and private statements by numerous sources, the FY 2020 budget proposal announced this week again excludes libraries. The Department of Education budget specifically eliminates several programs that benefit libraries. ALA is not surprised by this proposal, but we do know the competition is fiercer than it has been in the last two budget cycles. Our record of success and bipartisan support shows we have been agile, innovative and effective in our advocacy, so we are prepared.
You’ll be most effective with elected officials if you find examples from your own congressional district or state. In my state, Virginia, more than half a million in IMLS funds is going or has gone to aid the digitalization of high school yearbooks, to give just one example. Some $140,000 more was for a project to promote and ease access to other materials “documenting Virginia’s history, people and culture.” Trump talks about his love of America and its past. Well, that’s exactly what IMLS money is helping to nurture in Virginia.
The big picture
Very roughly, America’s libraries cost $12 billion to operate, so the current $242-million IMLS budget, grants included, is just a drop in the bucket, but it is a crucial drop—given all the innovation that agency encourages.
Trump would rather spend your tax money on such wastes as his wall and more nuclear bombs, and even if the Democrats take over the White House and the Senate, don’t expect miracles, given Trump’s bloated deficit and all the Democrats’ competing dreams—for example, more useful infrastructure and more generous healthcare and Social Security benefits.
For that reason, among others, LibraryEndowment.org has been pressing for a billionaire-funded national library endowment that would aid low-income communities while also financing innovations such as two well-stocked national digital library systems, one public, one academic. The private side is where the real money is.
But even if a $20-billion library endowment comes about, it will hardly be a panacea—given the size of the needs, as well as the desirability of diverse sources of library funding.
The urgent need for IMLS will remain. As it stands, most library funding in the U.S. is local, exasperating the geographically and racially related disparities. Libraries share the same “savage inequalities” that schools do.
So do care about the survival of IMLS, while hoping that someday its budget can be much larger.
A statement from ALA President Loida Garcia-Febro might provide you with some more fodder for your IMLS advocacy.
As discouraging as it is that the administration has again proposed eliminating the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the bipartisan support in Congress over the past two years gives us reason to hope. Elected decision-makers, including appropriators in both the House and Senate, agree that funding IMLS programs such as the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) is a sound investment and that to cut funding for libraries is to undercut opportunity for their constituents.
America’s 120,000 libraries are part of the fabric of thriving communities, and across the country, they are stretching capacity to accommodate a surge in demand for resources that are more relevant than ever. Thanks to its Grants to States program, IMLS funding supports evidence-based services that benefit everyone in our communities, including:
–Youth in Rhode Island who are preparing for today’s competitive job market through programming that connects teens to workforce development opportunities.
–Students in rural North Dakota who are participating in coding classes taught by trained school and public librarians.
–Entrepreneurs in New Mexico who receive help to launch and market their businesses.
–Veterans in California who need use libraries to connect to state and federal education, employment, housing, health, disability and other benefits they deserve.
–Adults in Kansas who take GED courses and use otherwise cost-prohibitive exam preparation tools to advance their education and improve career prospects.
Not only does the administration’s new budget dismiss the value of IMLS, it reduces funding for many other worthwhile programs, including resources for children. Cutting federal support for programs like the Department of Education’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy comes at the cost of early literacy, often in the most underserved areas of our nation. In addition, the White House budget proposal undermines public education for all students, penalizes librarians striving to improve their professional skills, and makes careers in public service out of reach for many.
Libraries are the great equalizers. Anyone can come in and use the resources available – to learn, to read a book, to research, to write a resume, to code a computer program, to create a business plan, to experiment with new technologies, to access government information, and much more. By giving people access to resources, libraries offer chances for people to pursue success and achieve their goals.
ALA members will continue to highlight the value of libraries to our elected leaders in every U.S. congressional district. We are confident that the 116th Congress will support the federal programs that invest in our communities.
Disclaimer: I speak neither for ALA nor IMLS, and they don’t speak for me. Don’t blame either for the Trump art accompanying this post.
Image credit: The brilliant Matthias Laurenz Gräff‘s Trump. The Killing Machine, Creative Commons-licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Yes, he loves CC and has given very clear-cut permission to repost.