Rep. Kurt Schrader with Oregon Librarians
Seven librarians from Oregon spent Tuesday, May 10 visiting the offices of all five Oregon Representatives and both Oregon Senators. These visits were conducted as part of National Library Legislative Day. I was privileged to be part of the visiting group as the President-Elect of the Oregon Library Association. Other members represented the breadth of Oregon libraries, including representatives from public, academic, and school libraries.
It was very gratifying to feel a strong sense of support for library issues from all seven offices. Regardless of party affiliation, district geography, or seniority, all Oregon’s members of Congress recognize the value of strong libraries for strong Oregon communities. Our state has been hit very hard by the economic downturn, and libraries are a rare public good available to all; library usage for internet access and job searching is up significantly over the past two years.
The American Library Association’s Washington (ALA) office held a briefing session on Monday to orient us to the key issues. Due to Congress’ current focus on budgetary and fiscal issues, many of these topics do not have active legislation at this time, but it was still important to raise congressional awareness of library needs and concerns.
On the funding side, one critical issue is the funding of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). This funding includes monies distributed to each state on a population-based model. States use the money to support local library programs. In Oregon, LSTA funding supports a variety of programs including:
- Statewide access to a variety of research and reference tools through local libraries of all types
- The Oregon School Library Information System (OSLIS), providing access to databases and learning tools for Oregon’s K-12 community
- Grants and aid to Oregon libraries pursuing innovative and collaborative projects to improve the Oregon library community
ALA is asking Congress to fully fund LSTA at the $232,000,000 level it authorized in December. While the current budgetary situation requires careful scrutiny of all programs, library funding returns value to communities in ways that no other money can. The economic downturn has increased library usage and the funding should be held at least neutral to recognize this value.
Another critical issue is funding for school libraries. Unfortunately, as school funding is slashed, library staff are among the first casualties. This is despite research clearly linking future student success to the presence of strong school libraries, which must include a trained librarian or media specialist to ensure student learning. The No Child Left Behind legislation included no library programs. As it is reauthorized (as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), it is critical that Congress include language that authorizes and mandates school programs and best practices.
Library Champion, Rep. Grijalva
On Monday, the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF), a division of ALA, awarded their 2011 Public Service Award to a champion of school libraries (and all library service), Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ). Rep. Grijalva introduced the 2009 Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries Act, better known as the SKILLs Act.
SKILLs would establish a goal of having not less than one highly qualified school library media specialist in each public school. In addition, it proposes to increase student academic achievement through strategies such as improving the quality of teachers, school library media specialists and principals; and increasing the number of highly qualified teachers in the classroom, highly qualified school library media specialists in the library and highly qualified principals and assistant principals in schools.
It was a true pleasure to meet Rep. Grijalva and hear his generous words about libraries as he accepted the award.
Oregon is very fortunate to have strong library supporters in Congress as well. I truly enjoyed my visits with them and the camaraderie of other Oregon librarians. Anyone else interested in ensuring strong, well-funded libraries should contact their members of Congress and ask for full support of these important library issues.