IMLS Funding: A Look at the NJ State Library

With a new federal budget on the horizon for Congress, it’s important to remember why the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is important to each state. I interviewed Mary Chute, State Librarian at the New Jersey State Library about why this federal funding is so important.

Each state has a state library agency that may look a little different from any other state library, and this was intentional. When establishing the program Congress realized that library needs are not the same everywhere. What Hawaii needs may not be the same as what North Dakota needs, and each state has to make allowances for urban areas that might need different types or levels of help or support than rural areas. The New Jersey State Library provides essential services for the libraries here, and federal funding makes up a full quarter of the NJSL’s budget.

She gave me a little history, which was fascinating because I had never looked into the history or foundation of IMLS before. As context, because we know that context and facts can be important, the Library Services Act was created in the 1950s when soldiers were returning from World War II and needed a place to obtain training and lifelong learning. Later, in the ‘90s, the Library Services act was removed from the Department of Education and added to the already existing Institute of Museum Services, and that is when funding for the competitive grants came to be, such as the National Leadership Grants for Libraries and Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program. Each year the basic Grants to States funding is distributed to all of the states by population so it fluctuates depending on the year, but the president’s current proposed budget wants to completely eliminate IMLS and all federal funding earmarked for libraries.  The name of the “Grants to States” program can confuse some people.  These are not competitive grants that states or libraries have to apply for.  Every state automatically gets funds based on population, that are then used to support all of the libraries in the state.

For the New Jersey State Library, “it would be a seismic shift” in their funding. There are certain elements that will remain no matter the agency’s funding level, but many services will be greatly impacted. However, NJSL has three core services that are currently supported by federal funds. One, the Talking Book and Braille Center is a library that has free audiobooks and braille books for blind patrons, or patrons who may have difficulty reading a standard print book due to a visual or physical impairment, or a reading disability. They also offer home delivery for patrons.. Two, JerseyConnect, which provides the technology backbone for over 300 libraries in the state. And three, databases and electronic resources. If NJSL’s funding gets cut, all of these are at risk and although not necessarily “gone” they are likely to be affected. If that were to happen to the electronic resources, that cost will have to be picked up by local libraries or lost completely. Currently, the state offers electronic resources such as Rosetta Stone that our public library patrons are so excited to learn about.

I used Rosetta Stone myself to try and learn Japanese a few years ago, and after a trip to France I’m trying to use it to improve my French language ability. It’s not terrible to me if I lose it, but that isn’t the only database that is offered. We could lose valuable resources that our students need to complete homework or assignments. These services are available to everyone in the state who has a library card. Only about $300,000 in state money is used towards statewide databases/e-resources, with an additional $1.5 million supporting the cost out of federal funds. If the funding were to be cut, the library would have to go back and look at all their services, and determine what they could actually spend for their limited resources.

The most at-risk to be cut out would be the least essential but most innovative programs they are able to do, including the Leadership Academy for librarians and start up funding for Makerspaces. New Jersey has received grants from IMLS in the past few years such as the Connecting to Collections grant which led to the creation of the New Jersey Cultural Alliance for Response. This was in part due to response to Superstorm Sandy, where the state teamed up with the Office of Emergency Management and archives in order to protect and preserve collections. This was a program that was later adapted nationwide in other states, which New Jersey was only able to create because of federal funds. They also partnered with Rutgers University for the NJ Digital Highway to digitize collections, as well as the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development for their Career Connections project which makes sure that patrons can continue lifelong learning in search of the right job for them.

So what can we do to protest this?  YALSA has 10+ ways that you can take action listed in this blog post.  The New Jersey Library Association has an update on the proposed federal budget cuts posted to their website here with instructions on how to reach out to your members of Congress, as well as factual responses because facts are incredibly important right now. These include talking to your members of Congress who will actually be approving the budget, and telling them why your library is important to you, what they see as the value to themselves and to their family of the community library, and how they see it as a community center for their town. Is it a place where people go and exchange ideas and do research? Contact your members of Congress, and let them know this. Make sure they know that patrons see libraries being used across New Jersey and that libraries make New Jersey stronger, they keep the New Jersey economy strong, and improve the quality of life here (and around the nation).

The New Jersey State Library is a center for information and will happily provide statistics and hard data for you to provide to your members of Congress. It is their job to provide the state legislature with information as well as the citizens of New Jersey, and they are happy to continue doing so.

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