It’s Time to Make That Call

The threat to federal library funding affects all of us

May 1, 2017

Keith Michael Fiels

So here’s the scenario: The newly elected president has proposed the elimination of all federal library funding. The money will be used to increase military spending.

If no one does anything, this could actually happen. Only a band of brave individuals stands between us and this scenario becoming a reality.

Who are these heroes?

They are us.

When speaking at chapters around the country, I often ask attendees to raise their hands if they have ever had their US representative or senators visit their library. Or if they’ve ever met them. Or visited their district office or the office in D.C. Or called their office. It’s no surprise that most people haven’t done most of these things.

In the coming weeks and months, however, we are going to need you to make that phone call. And you’re going to need to do it more than once.

Don’t be shy. Whether Republican or Democrat, they will not bite.

I have had the pleasure of meeting with elected officials hundreds of times to talk about library funding, and I have learned that they and their staff (whom you are more likely to talk with on any given day) are very interested in hearing how libraries are helping people and making a difference in their lives—and in their districts.

No matter where you work, federal funds have an impact on the day-to-day service you offer. You may have received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services or your state agency (80% of Library Services and Technology Act funding goes to states). Or you may have access to online databases, ebooks, shared online networks, and delivery supported through federal funding. For sure, users with disabilities depend on federal support.

And we all need to weigh in, whether you’re in an academic, public, school, or other type of library. Remember: You are not asking on your own behalf; you are asking on behalf of their constituents—young, old, students, veterans, working parents, homeschoolers, small business owners, people with disabilities—all of whom use and depend on libraries.

And bring others along. People don’t have to be experts to make a difference, and friends (both professional and personal) and family will have a huge impact, precisely because they are ordinary citizens.

Last, those calls make a difference. Members of Congress closely track the number of calls they receive, and they take notice. Emails, letters, and social media are great, and face-to-face visits are even better (especially if you bring along their childhood librarian), but the old-fashioned telephone call still packs a big punch.

So here’s what you can do:

  1. Reach out to your state chapter. They will be delighted to hear from you and can provide information to help you make the case locally.
  2. Go to the ALA action center. They have the phone numbers you’ll need and information you can use when you call.
  3. Call your US representative and senators. Tell them:
  • you need them to support library funding
  • how important libraries are to the people in their district (you have the stories)
  • get others (users, relatives, friends) to call

In April, we showed that if we worked together, we could get the largest number of US representatives in history to sign on to a House letter to appropriators. But that is only the first step. Now we’re asking senators to sign on to a similar letter. And there will be more.

So, pick up the phone and get ready to make that call.