IMLS and My Library: How Grant Funds Impacted Our Community’s Teens

If you are an avid reader of the YALSA blog, you will have seen the incredible posts written by library staff who are passionate about supporting IMLS and its powerful effect on libraries and after school programming efforts. In President Trump’s FY18 budget proposal, funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services is completely eliminate. For 20 years, IMLS has provided funding and grants that are vital resources libraries use to anticipate, respond to, and meet the evolving needs of their communities. IMLS has been incredibly efficient in prioritizing support for all states and territories, divvying up their federal funding with population-based formula grants  to make sure that each area of the United States is receiving funds. Trump’s proposal would take IMLS’s $230 million FY17 budget and cut it to $0. Not only is this drastic, but it’s dangerous.

In addition to proposing the elimination of IMLS and earmarked federal funds for libraries, the Trump administration claims that after school programming of any kind has no effect on a student’s school performance. There is ample evidence that this claim is wrong. For example, according to a ten year study from the Harvard Family Research Project that studied the effects of after school programming on youth, they concluded that “children and youth who participate in after school programs can reap a host of positive benefits in a number of interrelated outcome areas—academic, social/emotional, prevention, and health and wellness” (Little, Wimer, and Weiss, 2008). The study details the myriad of outcomes that after school programs specifically have on students, including a positive increase in math and reading scores, improved self-confidence, and in some cases, they have even contributed to the prevention of obesity in the youth studied.

As a three-year recipient of a grant made possible by IMLS for after school programming, I have personally seen the effects of federally funded grants improving the lives of youth and teens in my community. Perhaps IMLS’s most important role in the support of libraries is that it allows underfunded libraries or programs to serve youth from all walks of life.  The community I serve is highly diverse, low-income, and their schools are struggling; teachers are up against administration challenges, and students face barriers to academic achievement due to issues surrounding poverty. The schools in our district are focused on the task of meeting state standards and are given little time to encourage technological exploration that is not explicitly tied to the core curriculum. As a result, students are not afforded the opportunity to explore and expand their 21st century literacies and skills. Naturally, this is where the library steps in; not only is the library a place for these students to be after school, but we provide resources that they may not have at home, including access to digital tools and wi-fi so that they can complete their homework assignments, and attend programs that expand their skills relating to technology, life, careers, and so much more.

This is where IMLS has stepped in and helped our library provide extracurricular learning and opportunities. For three years, we have received a grant funded by Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) funds, which are administered by the IMLS. Our grant has set out to address the lack of technological exploration for our at-risk teens that is available during traditional learning hours. As we studied our community while writing the grant, we noticed that these lack of technology literacies were affecting a students’ career-readiness. Not only did students not have an understanding of possible future careers, but they lacked basic technology skills like conducting effective research, navigating the internet, and even using a computer. Therefore, we realized that in order to make these funds more effective, we needed to tie their learning to a bigger picture: their future. Our grant used career-readiness as the platform to teach technology literacy to teens in our community.

Over the past three years, we have been able to hire engineers, graphic designers, digital creative professionals, photographers, DJ’s, and so many more, to come and help students explore these careers, while also providing them with technology to use during the classes to take their learning deeper. For example, during our three month engineering quarter, students were introduced to the career of engineering, what the income range is, education required to become an engineer, and what a typical day on the job might entail. Then students used materials like K’Nex to build solar powered cars, Snap Circuits to create electrical circuits that powered radios, and a 3D printer to design and print prototypes for a new cell phone product. In our most recent grant program, we taught drone coding, used Kano and Raspberry Pi kits to teach computing, and used Scratch programming for students to develop their own video games using drag-and-drop code. Not only do students learn the how-to surrounding technology, but through evaluations and surveys conducted after each quarter, more than 90% of the students we serve have stated that they are going to pursue a career in something they learned during that quarter. They also leave with a strong sense of confidence in the subjects that they learned and plan to apply them in their lives outside school and the library. These outcomes are powerful when you consider that the programs and services we provide are preparing our future workforce, citizenry, and our future leaders. We need students who feel that they have a bright, clear future despite the challenges that they face in the now. IMLS grant funding helps us support our community in this way, and to remove that opportunity from this country’s libraries would dramatically interfere with the efficiency of serving our community.

Despite all of the uncertainty surrounding President Trump’s budget proposal, there may be a silver lining for IMLS’s future. There is currently a bill sitting in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions that, if passed, would secure funding for IMLS for another five years. However, the committee has been holding onto this bill since it was introduced back in September 2016. I encourage you to keep an eye on this bill, as it might affect the President’s budget proposal this year. As other library staff have suggested on this blog, now is the time for us as library professionals to continue being vocal about the role of libraries in their communities. Share with your friends, family, and community at large about what libraries do and how we are a vital component to a robust America; not only for today, but for anticipating and meeting the needs of our future.

About Elise Martinez

Elise Martinez is the Teen Services Specialist at a library in the northern Chicago suburbs. Elise is always looking for ways to communicate the vital role of libraries in the lives of teens and is interested in connected learning, digital literacy, and technology-based programming. You can find her bookish ramblings on Twitter @elisereneem.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply