In D.C., It’s All about Our Values

ALA continues advocacy efforts to help the most vulnerable

March 1, 2017

Keith Michael Fiels

Over the past two months, there’s been a lot of discussion about advocacy in the new federal environment. Much of this discussion has centered on our core values and how our positions and efforts need to focus on what promises to be a challenging period ahead.

As an Association, we advocate for a wide range of federal legislation and policy issues, from intellectual freedom and privacy to access to government information to preservation to copyright. We also advocate for funding for library programs, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), the E-Rate program, and funding for school libraries, to name just a few.

All of these legislative and policy advocacy efforts are based on our values as an Association: access, confidentiality/privacy, democracy, diversity, education and lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, preservation, the public good, professionalism, and service and social responsibility. (For details, see “Core Values of Librarianship” on ala.org.)

In advocating for these values, the notion comes up from time to time that advocating for our values and advocating for funding of federal programs for libraries are somehow in conflict. Speaking from my experience as a former state library agency head (in Massachusetts), this is far from the case: The truth is that federal programs for libraries are all about our values.

Take IMLS and LSTA as examples: IMLS administers federal funding support for more than 123,000 libraries in virtually every community in the nation. Our nation’s public libraries alone receive more than 1.5 billion in-person visits each year from students, parents, job seekers, and seniors. Through grant-making and federal funding, IMLS provides libraries with essential support for lifelong learning and equitable access for all, including support for early literacy, summer reading programs, workforce training, makerspaces, basic literacy skills, programs for new immigrants and veterans, and resources for researchers and entrepreneurs.

The programs funded by IMLS, LSTA, and E-Rate make a real difference in people’s lives every day.

LSTA funds have also been used by IMLS and state agencies to provide access to resource sharing networks that give hundreds of millions of people living in this country access to other library collections, shared electronic resources such as ebooks, online research databases, and cutting-edge technology tools and resources.

Tens of thousands of people with visual and physical disabilities depend on IMLS-funded programs for access to library collections and assistive technology. Federal funds from IMLS provide millions with access to data critical to everything from home schooling to job searching and retraining, children’s health, and small business support. IMLS funds also assist services to the hundreds of thousands of users of tribal libraries, the majority of whom live in rural and isolated areas.

And funding provided through E-Rate programs has allowed tens of thousands of public and school libraries to make internet access available to hundreds of millions of library users. Many live in rural or urban areas where libraries are providing the only internet access available to them. For these people, the library serves as a lifeline to employment information, job training, and health information.

In short, IMLS, LSTA, and E-Rate are all about equity, diversity, and inclusion. The programs they fund impact the most vulnerable populations in our country, and they make a real difference in people’s lives every day.

All of this boils down to very good news: We don’t have to choose between our values and funding. It’s all about values.