In celebration of National Library Week, Ivanka Trump — eldest daughter and assistant to President Donald Trump — Tweeted about the important role that libraries and librarians play in “opening our eyes to the world of knowledge, learning and reading!” This statement, however well-intentioned, did not go over well with the institutions whose funding would be slashed or eliminated if the President’s budget is passed.
Trump’s first-draft budget proposal — the so-called “skinny” budget — includes recommendations that the government shutter at least 19 federal agencies, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which provides funding and other support to libraries and museums nationwide.
Eliminating IMLS would effectively remove all federal funding for most of the country’s more than 120,000 libraries, notes the American Library Association, which responded the First Daughter with a Tweet of its own, pointing out that librarians are only able to do what they do thanks to IMLS funding:
IMLS has an annual budget of around $230 million, about $180 million of which is distributed to libraries around the country per the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). While that’s a lot of money to libraries, it’s less than a dollar per year per American, and less than .006% of the federal budget. Additionally, the LSTA requires that states provide matching funds equal to about one-third of what the IMLS provides. So the loss of all IMLS funding could either mean the loss of this state funding or more burden on states that want to keep supporting libraries.
Following the mid-March announcement of the skinny budget, IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, joined other agency heads in speaking out publicly against the proposed cuts.
“Our agency’s support enables museums and libraries to offer learning experiences for students and families, as well as to increase care for, and access to, the nation’s collections that are entrusted to museums and libraries by the public,” said Dr. Matthew. “We’ve invested in rural and smaller communities by supporting basic infrastructure and by developing libraries as local community hubs for broadband connectivity and digital literacy training — helping hundreds of residents gain job-related skills and, in many cases, find employment.”
While the President’s budget proposal carries some weight with lawmakers, it’s ultimately up to Congress to figure out how much the government will spend, and on what.
Last week, a coalition of more than 140 members of Congress wrote to the leadership of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, calling on them to protect IMLS from elimination.
“Every day, libraries across the country provide no-fee public access to computers and the Internet in some of our most distressed communities,” reads the letter [PDF], which cites ALA reports which found that 65% of U.S. libraries are the only provider of free internet access in their communities; 73% in rural America. “This access is critical at a time when applications for many jobs and government services must be filled out online.”