Federal Budget Cuts, or What Is the IMLS?

22 Mar

C7Xwd1fU8AAr7bRAs I promised in a previous post, this is not a blog to become political, but it is a blog to be educated about library issues and this issue is too big to ignore. This post is longer than usual, but I really want people to understand what the IMLS is and what it does. The federal budget blueprint has been published and eliminates federal funding to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This may not mean anything to the everyday person, but for anyone in the field its difficult to comprehend what this could mean for the work we do everyday.

The IMLS is an independent agency of the federal government established in 1996. It is the main source of federal funding for museums and libraries and focuses on the following national issues and priorities:

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)
  • Preservation, Conservation, and Care of Content and Collections
  • National Digital Platform
  • Museum and Library Professionals
  • Communities of Practice
  • Accessibility in Museums and Libraries
  • Access to Content and Collections
  • Community
  • Early Learning
  • Management of Content and Collections
  • Makerspaces
  • Inclusive and Accessible Learning
  • 21st Century Skills

C7XTjTbWkAEwlfwThe IMLS supports 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums in the United States. And more specifically, “IMLS supports the full range of libraries, including public, academic, research, special and tribal, and the full range of museums including art, history, science and technology, children’s museums, historical societies, tribal museums, planetariums, botanic gardens and zoos.” I also have a soft spot in my heart for the IMLS, not only because I’m a librarian, but because I also did an internship at the IMLS office in Washington DC during graduate school.

Many people don’t understand how library funding works – and granted, it’s different for different libraries, but in the public sector libraries are usually funded by some combination of local, state and federal funding. I’ll use my library as an example. The majority of funding comes at the local level with limited funding from the state and federal level. Our budget for the year is about $2.1 million. Of this, only about $85,000 comes from state and federal grants.  That means only 4% of my budget does not come from local revenue.

Granted, a cut in funding at the federal level, does not trickle down to my library and cause major damage. The majority of federal funding for libraries is funneled through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) – the only federal program exclusively for libraries. This money is administered by the IMLS and is given to all 50 states, five territories and three Freely Associated States. The amount received includes a base amount, plus a supplemental amount based on population.  For example, Pennsylvania received $5,467,151 for FY 2016. This money is then spread among the over 450 public libraries and countless special libraries across the state. That’s where our $85,000 comes into play.

IMLS funding also supports state-wide grants and programs that would cease to exist without the financial support from the IMLS.  Over the past 20 years, the IMLS funded over 40 projects in Pennsylvania alone – projects to encourage literacy, preservation of archival material, collaborations with museums, and much more.  Specifically, One Book, Every Young Child, an initiative in its twelfth year in Pennsylvania is funded through an IMLS grant.  This program “highlights the importance of early literacy development in preschoolers and the significance of reading early and often to children, as well as engaging them in conversation and other activities around books.” With a shared book title throughout the state, author visits as well as activities for parents, families, early childhood educators, librarians and museum employees, this program benefits numerous people across the state.

So how are librarians reacting to the news?

The President of ALA responded with, “The American Library Association will mobilize its members, Congressional library champions and the millions upon millions of people we serve in every zip code to keep those ill-advised proposed cuts from becoming a Congressional reality.” Check out #saveIMLS on Twitter and the Facebook badge that you can add to your profile picture. Click on over to everylibrary.org to email your representative about the importance of IMLS.

Oh, and by the way, the federal government saves .002% by eliminating the IMLS, but by keeping the IMLS, we show the world that we value education, literacy, culture, science, technology and so much more.

And I know that the IMLS isn’t the only agency/department affected by this budget blueprint, but I want to educate people about the importance of the IMLS and everything that it does for the community you live in, where ever that may be.




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