On December 19, during the last full week the 115th Congress was in session and after an 11th-hour threat to stall the bill, the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA), S. 3530—legislation to reauthorize the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)—passed 331–28 in the House. The Senate had passed the bill on December 4.
Thanks to the persistence of American Library Association (ALA) members and bipartisan support of congressional leaders who introduced the legislation, Congress is currently on record as saying that America’s libraries are a national priority.
ALA thanks Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.); and Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Will Hurd (R-Tex.), Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), David McKinley (R-W.Va.), and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) for their support. The Association also acknowledges the extra efforts of ALA advocates in House Speaker Ryan’s (R-Wis.) district, whose intensive advocacy over the past week through calls and letters to the editor helped push the MLSA across the finish line. The bill now goes to the White House, where the president is expected to sign it.
Reauthorization of MLSA is a vote of confidence in IMLS and its library grant programs through the Library Services and Technology Act. It is an explicit validation from members of Congress that an agency serving all their constituents—from job seekers and entrepreneurs to veterans and learners of all ages—deserves federal support. The new legislation authorizes IMLS through 2025 and contains improvements to enable more libraries on tribal lands to participate in IMLS grant programs, permit use of IMLS funding for disaster preparedness and assistance, and encourage greater use of data-driven tools to measure the impact and maximize the effectiveness of library services.
While reauthorization of the legislation provides backing for IMLS, it does not ensure robust funding for the agency. The only way to maintain congressional support for IMLS is to establish and maintain relationships with elected leaders on a year-round basis, especially as we head into the new Congress. You can thank Congress for passing the MLSA by using the email template on ALA’s legislative action center. Stay tuned for new advocacy resources ALA will roll out in January at the 2019 Midwinter Meeting in Seattle.
One thing about MLSA is certain: ALA persisted, and Congress passed it. At a time when getting federal decision makers together on any issue is difficult, the advocacy of ALA members is making a difference for libraries and the people we serve.