The American Library Association (ALA) is leading the charge to reauthorize a bill that could pump millions of dollars of additional funding into school library programs nationwide. Schools would be able to use the funds to upgrade sophisticated technology systems, connect to statewide electronic databases, and preserve documents digitally, among other things.

The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) of 1996—part of the larger Museum and Library Services Act—was intended to improve access to information by boosting communication between libraries and by making resources more readily available to underserved populations.

Its pending reauthorization stands to increase the amount of federal money available to school and public libraries by as much as $100 million. Given the recent spate of education-related budget cuts and the sheer expense of high-end data storage and information-sharing technologies, library advocates and policy makers agree that current funding levels fall short of rapidly evolving needs.

“School libraries have been neglected for a long time. A lot of collections have been neglected,” said Mary Costabile, ALA’s associate director. “I look at [the reauthorization] as a big step along the way to helping libraries improve.”

Library systems, she said, have had a hard time keeping pace with technology upgrades, including the computerization of archaic card catalogs; access to internet resources, trade journals, and online encyclopedias; and the ability to locate resources using a complex web of computer networks and searchable, statewide databases.

The Senate version of the bill (S. 888)—referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on April 11—would increase funding for school and public library programs from $150 million to $250 million a year, while museum funding would jump from $28.7 million to $41.5 million.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who co-sponsored the bill along with Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said additional funding for library services would garner national enthusiasm for learning.

“Museums and libraries are rich centers of learning, woven into the fabric of our communities, big and small, urban and rural,” Reed said in a statement promoting the legislation. “Today’s library is not simply a place where books are read and borrowed. It is a place where a love for reading is born and renewed again and again, and where information is sought and discovered.”

The House passed its own version of the bill (H.R. 13) on March 6 by an overwhelming margin of 416-2. Sponsored by Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., H.R. 13 authorizes $215 million for libraries and $35 million for museums—meaning if the Senate bill passes as expected, lawmakers from both chambers of Congress will have to work out a compromise on funding.

Still, barring any unforeseen circumstances, school and public libraries stand to benefit from at least $65 million in additional funding.

Under the new law, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) would hold on to 9 percent of the federal allocation for libraries. A portion of these funds would support the IMLS’s competitive national grant program for research, training, and the digital preservation of library resources, while the rest would be tagged for Native American Library resources and administrative costs.

The remainder of the allocation would be doled out to states based on a two-step formula. Initially, each state would receive a block grant. The pending reauthorization would double funding for this minimum base allocation, from $340,000 to $680,000 per state. The rest of the money then would be distributed to each state library association based on the state’s overall population.

According to Mamie Bittner, director of public and legislative affairs at IMLS, state library associations would be able to use the money to support statewide initiatives and services. They also could distribute the funds to public, academic, research, school, and special libraries in their state by way of a competitive grants process or through cooperative agreements.

See these related links:

American Library Association

Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee

THOMAS: Legislative Information on the Internet

Institute of Museum and Library Services