After weeks of negotiations in Congress and with key library advocates across the country, the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA) has stalled in the offices of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
In closed-door meetings in November, the House and Senate negotiated a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to move MLSA (S. 3530) forward. The Senate, with the assent of the library community, accepted changes requested by the House Republican majority prior to the bill passing the Senate on December 4 by unanimous consent. In return, the House committed to passing the Senate bill without changes so it could be brought directly to the House floor and considered under suspension of the rules, a typical way to move noncontroversial bills.
Now, in the final hours of the 115th Congress, Ryan and McCarthy are denying their commitment to bring the bill to the floor.
“The House is refusing to advance MLSA right when we have our toes on the finish line,” says Kathi Kromer, associate executive director of the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office. “After two years of persistent work by ALA, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), our partners at the American Alliance of Museums, and countless advocates in the field, it is disappointing that the House is breaking their word at this stage.”
In addition to COSLA, state library associations, and other nonprofit partners, ALA has been working with key contacts across the country to make sure the bill survived through what has been a politically challenging session.
“Many of us have been working hand-in-hand with ALA over the last several months. In North Carolina, we made sure Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) heard from the library community,” says Anthony Chow, associate professor of library and information studies at University of North Carolina at Greensboro and advocacy cochair for the North Carolina Library Association. “In addition, I know many library workers in Tennessee, New Jersey, and elsewhere across the country with strong connections to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions have been persistently in touch. It is frustrating to see the House delay our progress after all of our hard work to get it passed in the Senate.”
On December 13, ALA once again activated its grassroots advocates across the country to reach out to Ryan and McCarthy and urge them to bring the bill to the floor next week. ALA advocates have generated more than 1,200 tweets and 2,100 emails to their representatives, alerting them to this delay and urging Ryan and McCarthy to keep their promise.
“I am proud to see our advocates in the field working together to draw attention to this important moment in ALA’s unwavering negotiations around MLSA,” says ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo. “It is our duty at this time to hold the House accountable for the promise they made to their constituents and our patrons across the country.”
MLSA has more than six decades of history. The original legislation from the 1950s was first reauthorized in 1960 and again in 1964. It has received broad bipartisan support and renewals over the years. President Barack Obama renewed MLSA in 2010 and authorized federal funding through 2016. Since then, the bill has been introduced seven times but has not advanced.
Until the House adjourns for the year, ALA will continue to broadly mobilize all library advocates and urge Ryan and McCarthy to bring S. 3530 to the floor next week.
“We’ve come too far this session to give up now,” says Kromer. “The final act of the House majority leadership in the current Congress should not be to abandon libraries.”