Stimulate Your Library

Congress made history with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), signed by President Obama February 17, and now libraries have their turn.

May 26, 2009

Congress made history with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), signed by President Obama February 17, and now libraries have their turn. The ARRA will ultimately release an unprecedented level of federal spending—$787 billion—into the U.S. economy in an effort to put our nation back on track through saving or creating 3 million jobs; providing tax relief; and investing in needs such as health, energy, and education. “Libraries are already a part of the mission to help Americans get through this hard time in our nation’s economy, and we must seize upon this historic opportunity to obtain federal funding available to libraries in the stimulus to further our mission of assistance,” says Lynne Bradley, director of the ALA Office of Government Relations (OGR). “We may never have another chance like this to secure federal dollars to improve and continue the services libraries are providing to the public and to students throughout the country,” she observes. “It is important that librarians learn all they can about the opportunities in the ARRA and communicate with their state and local governments about the benefits of investing stimulus funding in libraries.” Bradley also says she hopes the governors and mayors will take their lead from President Obama, who has frequently voiced his support for libraries. In presenting his FY 2010 budget to Congress, the president declared that “to give our children a fair shot to thrive in a global, information-age economy, we will equip thousands of schools, community colleges, and universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.” The provisions for libraries in the ARRA demonstrate the president’s regard and understanding of the role libraries serve in communities, notes OGR Associate Director Melanie Anderson. “It may seem to some that Washington is on a spending spree,” she says. “But in truth, it is a very competitive time, and libraries are fortunate to have a leader in the White House and many other leaders in Congress who understand that investing in libraries is an effective use of taxpayer dollars.” “Many programs are seeing their federal funding cut in half or completely,” says Anderson, “and libraries are very fortunate that we not only secured the long-sought-after funding level for the Library Services and Technology Act in FY 2009, but we also have new opportunities for federal funding through the stimulus.” Specific provisions libraries can benefit from in the stimulus include $13 billion for Title I, $650 million for Enhancing Education Through Technology, $7.2 billion for Broadband, $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, an additional $120 million for the Senior Community Service Employment Program, an additional $130 million for the Rural Community Facilities Program, and $4.24 billion and $1.33 billion for Military Libraries to try to access. ALA has posted information on how these provisions can benefit libraries. Yet while these opportunities are available to libraries, they won’t be handed to them. That is why it is critical to reach out to state and local leaders and remind them that at a time when consumer confidence is low, libraries are the ideal place to invest federal dollars. Americans trust their libraries—and rightly so, considering that the only “agenda” a library ever has is to enrich the lives of the public and equip them with the information they need. And over the last year, libraries have powerfully demonstrated their return on taxpayers’ investment: According to ALA research, nationwide, libraries hosted more than 1.3 billion visits last year. Over 62% of libraries report aiding job-seekers last year, up from 44% the year before. Libraries know their potential to close the digital divide and bring internet technology into unserved or underserved communities, and more members of the public are learning that libraries offer more than free books, DVDs, and CDs; they offer help with job-searching, resume-building, skills-training, financial literacy, small-business development, e-government services, and much more. The challenge before librarians and library advocates is effectively communicating this message to local and state government officials and, in many cases, informing them about the opportunities available for libraries in the ARRA. OGR Associate Director Anderson says that time is of the essence for advocating on behalf of libraries, because one of the largest pieces of the stimulus open to libraries—the $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund—is now being distributed from the Department of Education, and governors are being urged to promptly spend the money. The ARRA directs governors to use 18.2% of the state’s allocation from the State Stabilization Fund for public safety and other government services, which includes public libraries. “Many libraries are already reaching out to their governors and encouraging them to use the State Stabilization Funds for libraries, and we have been working with state librarians and the ALA chapters to encourage them to put together a libraries’ needs list for their states,” says Anderson. Alan Inouye, director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), agrees that without action, many opportunities could pass libraries by, as other communities, groups, and businesses will be standing in line as well—especially for a piece of the $7.2 billion broadband pie. The broadband funding is being administered by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees $4.7 billion, and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which will oversee the remaining $2.5 billion. Although $7.2 billion sounds like a lot, in reality there is likely to be tremendous competition for these funds from a variety of for-profit and nonprofit organizations and businesses. Libraries have many advantages that could increase their chances of securing funding despite the broadband free-for-all. Bob Bocher, chair of OITP’s Telecommunications Subcommittee and Technology Consultant for the Wisconsin Division for Libraries, Technology and Community Learning, notes that since the core mission of the public library is to provide public access computing, the $200 million in federal broadband funding to expand “public computer center capacity” is a natural fit for libraries, and libraries have a number of angles to consider when developing proposals for the broadband program. “The public library is the quintessential community anchor institution,” Bocher observes. “Grant funding is available to libraries to provide education and training to facilitate greater use of services like the web. Library staff routinely provides workshops and other education activities to assist patrons in using the Web. And thus libraries should be able to take advantage of this funding better than many other applicants.” The main focus of the broadband provision in the ARRA is to provide broadband access to “unserved” areas and improve the quality of access in those areas considered “underserved,” but these terms have yet to be defined. The program is open to a wide audience, including educational institutions, healthcare facilities, small businesses, telecommunications providers, and, of course, libraries. Provisions in the program that dovetail with library services underscore what libraries are already doing and encourage libraries to think outside the box. Now is an opportunity to not only find support for traditional services but to plan for connectivity needs of the future. Specific funds are set aside for broadband awareness and outreach education. Although many people are already internet users, there remains a segment of the population that lags behind. Libraries are poised to provide access and support to these vulnerable groups. Librarians can stimulate broadband demand by helping their patrons understand the critical role the internet plays in everyday life. To support this role, libraries can develop proposals for training, equipment, and other support for services related to encouraging broadband use. The stimulus package targets $250 million of the broadband provision for innovative projects that encourage sustainable broadband service. Libraries should begin to think about what they need to ensure they will be able to continue to provide adequate broadband services. OITP Director Inouye says that although the details about the funding programs created by ARRA have not yet been defined by NTIA and RUS, there are important steps libraries can take now. NTIA and RUS have until September 30 to spend the $7.2 billion. The funding will be awarded in three rounds; the first solicitation for applications is expected sometime between April and June of this year. Gathering information and developing strategies to ensure libraries are ready to participate in the ARRA broadband programs is critical, Inouye says. OITP and OGR recently issued a top-10 list of steps libraries can take now to begin their efforts to attain broadband funding. Libraries interested in seeking broadband funding should begin taking inventory of their connectivity as well as that of the surrounding community. They should also assess the library’s telecommunications services and identify future needs as well as talk with campus or school administrators, local government officials, and the state governor’s office, as well as with local institutions and their colleagues in the library community. Explore the possibility of working with partners—public and private—to specifically to focus on the job/career, employment, and small-business needs and resources in your community. While planning and looking to the future, there is one other thing libraries should remember to do: Offer their thanks to their members of Congress and to the Obama administration for including libraries in the mission to put America on the path to recovery. Emily Sheketoff is executive director of the ALA Washington Office.


On the Line for the First Amendment

A July 1995 interview with Judith Krug, director of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, who died April 11. The towering champion of free speech and vigorous opponent of censorship shared her views with American Libraries in a conversation with Senior Editor Beverly Goldberg that was published in September 1995.