NEWS: S.C. libraries could be hurt by push to end federal funding

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By Andy Brack, editor and publisher  |  The huffing and puffing in Washington about “draining the swamp” could have a huge negative impact on South Carolina’s libraries if Congress approves the Trump administration’s proposed cuts of $215 million to federal library assistance.


“Loss of federal funds would cripple our agency,” said Leesa M. Aiken, director of the South Carolina State Library.  “Sixty percent of my staff salaries are paid for with federal funds. The situation is significant.”

If the Trump administration proposal to get Congress to eliminate the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) goes through, South Carolina could lose $2,204,856 in funding.  That’s just over a third of the state library’s annual operating budget of $6.4 million, Aiken said.

The cut would hurt seniors with failing eyesight who “read” books through the popular Talking Books program.  It would slice programs that help people get jobs.  It would cut funding to children’s summer reading programs.  Also on the chopping block:  Online access to the language learning program Mango and the animated education site for kids called BrainPOP; funding for StoryFest; small grants to libraries across the state for innovation and development; digitization projects.  The full list is outlined below.

What’s happening in Washington

The Trump administration’s 2017-18 budget calls for elimination of federal funding for four cultural agencies:  The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  The Trump budget also proposes elimination of funding for 15 other agencies, including the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Legal Services Corporation, and the Corporation for National and Community Service (AmeriCorps), as well as big cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department, Agriculture Department, Labor Department and more.

While cuts to non-defense discretionary spending to multiple agencies would total $18 billion, Trump’s budget proposes three times of additional spending — $54 billion — at the Department of Defense, the federal government’s largest agency with a current budget of about $520 billion.

Cuts would impact everyone

Cuts to funding of libraries and museums would impact millions of Americans, according to IMLS Director Kathryn K. Matthew, a South Carolina native.


“The institutions we serve provide vital resources that contribute significantly to Americans’ economic development, education, health, and well-being whether by facilitating family learning and catalyzing community change or stimulating economic development through job training and skills development,” she said in a March 16 statement.  “Our agency’s support enables museums and libraries to offer learning experiences for students and families, as well as to increase care for, and access to, the nation’s collections that are entrusted to museums and libraries by the public.”

Matthew emphasized that more than $214 million of what the agency received in its 2016 budget went directly to libraries and museums, including $155 million for library services in every state and territory through a population-based formula grant program.

“We’ve invested in rural and smaller communities by supporting basic infrastructure and by developing libraries as local community hubs for broadband connectivity and digital literacy training — helping many residents gain job-related skills and, in many cases, find employment,” she said.

Like Matthew, the president of the American Library Association said cutting library funding would hurt the quality of people’s lives in communities across the country.  ALA President Julie Todaro, dean of library services at Austin (Texas) Community College, called Trump’s budget “counterproductive and short-sighted” and pledged to work with congressional champions of libraries to keep them from happening.

“Libraries leverage the tiny amount of federal funds they receive through their states into an incredible range of services for virtually all Americans everywhere to produce what could well be the highest economic and social ‘ROI’ (return on investment) in the entire federal budget,” she said in a statement.

“The range of services provided to millions of Americans through LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) grants is matched only by the creativity of the libraries that receive them:  Veterans transition to civilian life; small businesses seeking to expand their business online; summer reading programs; resources for blind and hearing-impaired patrons; resume-writing and job-skills workshops and computer-coding courses to teach youth 21st century job skills.”

Potentially on the chopping block in South Carolina

Nicolle Davies, new director of the Charleston County Public Library, said funding for local libraries through federal grants was “essential to assist libraries in the mission of serving our entire population.”

Davies, who was named the Librarian of the Year in 2016 by Library Journal magazine, added, “If IMLS is not funded, libraries may potentially lose resources for summer reading for our youngest patrons, adaptive technologies for patrons with physical challenges, the talking book library for patrons with visual impairments, and the list goes on from there. “

Here is the list of programs supported in South Carolina by the $2.4 million it gets in federal funds from Matthew’s IMLS, according to Aiken:

  • The entire Talking Book Services program including staff.
  • Sub-grants to public libraries across the state that fund innovative projects ranging from eco-literacy in Georgetown County and broadband access in Beaufort County to digitizing newspaper archives, outreach in rural areas and reaching patrons in new ways.
  • Statewide access to Mango Language.
  • Statewide access to BrainPop Jr.
  • Continuing education grants and tuition reimbursement to librarians to attend more than a dozen professional conferences.
  • Digitization projects.
  • Proquest / Safari online subscription.
  • Summer Reading supplies.
  • StoryFest – Summer Reading kick-off event.
  • Assistive technology devices.
  • Professional development for library consultants.
  • Consulting services to public libraries.
  • Day by Day Literacy calendar.
  • Ferguson’s Career Guidance Center.
  • Learning Express.
  • Discus, S.C.’s Virtual Library – primarily used by K-12 community, teachers, families.

What can you do?

The Trump administration’s proposal is far from being law.  As the Washington Post notes, Congress has the final say:  “Congress typically makes changes to the president’s proposal — last year, lawmakers disregarded Obama’s budget altogether.”

In an email this week to staff, Aiken shared a similar theme: “Loss of federal funding would significantly impact what we do, but I don’t think it will come to that.  It is important to remember that the President’s budget is just the beginning of the budget process.  Over the course of several months, Congress will work on the budget and then it will go back to the Office of the President.”

But librarians are still cautious.  They’re making contingency plans and hoping that lobbying by library advocates such as the ALA and affiliated groups will pressure members of Congress to throw out the administration’s proposed cuts.

The ALA is encouraging citizens to tell their members of Congress to keep their hands off funding for libraries and museums.  They’re encouraging citizens to contact their representatives and senators to support library funding.

If you want to make your voice heard online, you can:

Disclosure:  Editor Andy Brack chairs the Charleston County Public Library Board of Trustees. 


One Comment

  1. Learning Express Library has now been cut, which was a valuable tool for adults seeking job skills improvement or anyone needing practice for ACT, SAT, GRE, AP or occupational license exams. Usage stats were not up to par according to state library staff but I believe this source could have been marketed more toward community resource centers, vocational rehab services, and GED students. Sad loss for SC citizens but the feds are not the problem here.

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