This week, the American Library Association (ALA) kicked off its annual #FundLibraries campaign, calling on library advocates in every congressional district to contact their US representatives and ask them to sign onto bipartisan “Dear Appropriator” letters in support of federal funding for libraries.
This year, there is a remarkably brief window for action: the deadline for signatures is March 20.
The Library Services and Technology Act (LTSA) letter, circulated by US Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.), urges House of Representatives appropriators to provide $232 million for LSTA to fund a wide range of essential library services. The Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program letter, circulated by US Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.), calls for $50 million for the only federal program dedicated to supporting school libraries, particularly those in the most high-need areas.
Our advocacy this week will have a domino effect for the rest of the FY2024 budget process. The more representatives we get to cosign the Dear Appropriator letters for LSTA and IAL, the better chance we have for congressional support for libraries throughout the budget process.
ALA paved the way for full funding of federal programs that support libraries in FY2024 by hosting a strategic fly-in March 8–9 that coincided with the release of the White House budget proposal. I was one of 97 advocates, including 24 state librarians who gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with federal appropriators and their staffs about library funding. I trust that the stories and priorities I shared with my legislators will pay off in dividends as more library advocates speak up in my state and in the congressional districts where I live and work.
One of the stories shared at the fly-in was about Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City Schools (TCS), which received an IAL grant back in 2021. With 65% of the nearly 11,000 kids in the district eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, TCS serves a high-need community. As a result of that IAL grant, TCS is receiving nearly $4 million over five years to amplify the work of its school librarians, including book distributions and childhood literacy activities from birth to grade 12.
Our advocacy for library funding isn’t about winning a federal appropriations game. It’s about the thousands of underserved kids in Tuscaloosa who are learning to read from new books that make them want to read more.
I invite you to join me in contacting your members of Congress today and asking them to sign the Dear Appropriator letters for LSTA and IAL. You can track your legislators’ signatures on our Dear Appropriator letters in real time at ala.org/fundlibraries.
As the voice for our country’s libraries on Capitol Hill for more than 75 years, ALA has led members to make the case for federal funding for libraries amid all sorts of circumstances. This year, many of us are facing attacks on our collections and on our profession from a vocal minority. We will not allow all the vital work of libraries to be lost in the fray.
Elected leaders, including the 76 freshmen representatives serving in the House, need to know the many ways their constituents rely on libraries—and what communities stand to lose without federal funding. Millions of other advocates are rallying support for other worthy causes. When it comes to libraries, it’s up to you and me.
The clock is ticking. Let’s make the most of our first week of ALA’s FY2024 #FundLibraries campaign.