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Why Library Funding is Important
| published August 7, 2014 |

By Earl Perkins
Thursday Review features editor

Without libraries, opposable thumbs may be one of the few things separating us from supposed lower life forms. So when city and state governments nationwide begin cutting budgets, and one of their first choices is often associated with libraries and media centers (which, by extension, means educating young people), we should be concerned. If the world faces serious problems, don't you think it would be nice to educate the next generation so they at least might have hope for a better life?

“Library funding behavior is driven by attitudes and beliefs, not by demographics,” according to a report by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC; formerly known as the Ohio College Library Center). “Voters’ perceptions of the role the library plays in their lives and in their communities are more important determinants of their willingness to increase funding than their age, gender, race, political affiliation, life stage or income level. The more that can be learned about library perceptions, the better the chances of constructing a successful library support campaign to improve library funding.”

Libraries continue to meet society's changing needs, despite dealing with recession-driven financial constrictions and federal neglect, according to National Center for Education Statistics. Numerous school libraries face elimination or de-professionalization of programs, the study stated. Most libraries would be thrilled to remain relevant and keep their doors open, with a recent independent national survey showing that 90 percent of respondents said libraries are important to communities, according to the American Library Association.

These and numerous other library trends studied throughout the past year were discussed in the ALA's 2014 State of America's Libraries report, which was released during National Library Week this past April.

The majority of federal library program funds are distributed through the Institute of Museum and Library Services to each state. The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) is part of the annual Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill. The ALA's Washington office spearheads numerous activities, which include lobbying for LSTA funds, communicating with Congress concerning funding for federal libraries, the Library of Congress, the National Agricultural Library and the National Library of Medicine, among others.

ALA representatives seek funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, along with backing the causes of adult education and literacy. They also push for libraries to become involved in education programs, including those for early childhood education.

The majority of library funds come from state and local sources, but federal funding provides critical assistance, giving libraries nationwide financial support needed to serve communities. The amount of funding a library receives is directly proportional to quality of services.

Federal support for libraries has been falling the past several years, capped by severe funding cuts to LSTA and many other vital programs, even forcing some facilities to close. The ALA closely monitors numerous programs, because libraries are interrelated with education, the humanities, the arts and other social functions.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and related agencies (Labor-HHS-Education), marked up FY 2015 on June 10. This spending bill includes several important programs including LSTA and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL). It funds LSTA at $180.9 million, which matches this year's totals. IAL level funded within the bill's report language, thus funding the program at $25 million for FY 2015. At least half the money appropriated to IAL must be set aside for a competitive grant for low-income school libraries.

The bill provides $156,773,000,000 in base discretionary budget authority, matching the FY 2014 level, while including $1,484,000,000 in cap adjustment funding, a $560,000,000 increase to prevent waste, fraud, abuse and improper payments in the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, had high hopes that the legislation would improve education in America.

“This is the bill that invests in America and allows us to respond to the changing needs of our country, all within a difficult budget," he said. "I am particularly encouraged that the bill directs funding to investments in high-quality early childhood care and education, which have been proven to have positive, lasting effects on children and families.

"The bill also invests in programs that support working families and contains funding that allows for an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award,” Harkin said, “which is critical for expanding access to higher education. All in all, this bill takes a thoughtful approach to funding these critical programs because this bill funds America’s priorities; it is the bill in which we invest in our future.”

Related Thursday Review articles:

How a College Library Thrives in a Digital Age; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 18, 2014.

New Yorkers Challenge Plan to Gut Landmark Library; Thursday Review; May 14, 2014.

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles about libraries in the digital age; future segments will include looks inside public libraries, large and small; as well as other media center venues.