Oregon librarians visit U.S. legislators

U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader (D, Oregon) met with GSE Professor Ruth Murray and Molly Raphael, President of the American Library Association.

Seven librarians from Oregon spent Tuesday, May 10, visiting the Washington, DC offices of all five Oregon Representatives and both Oregon Senators. These visits were conducted as part of National Library Legislative Day.  Other American Library Association (ALA) members represented a broad range of Oregon libraries, including public, academic, and school libraries.

“It was very gratifying to feel a strong sense of support for library issues from all seven offices,” said GSE Professor Ruth Murray. She felt that regardless of party affiliation, district geography, or seniority, all Oregon members of Congress recognize the value of strong libraries for a strong state. The librarians’ message to the legislators was that though Oregon has been hit very hard by the economic downturn, libraries are a rare public good available to all. They noted that library usage for internet access and job searching in Oregon is up significantly over the past two years.

The ALA’s national office personnel held a briefing session on Monday to orient state librarians on key issues. They explained that due to Congress’ current focus on budgetary and fiscal issues, many of these topics do not have active legislation at this time, but it is 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:

A critical issue for the ALA is funding for school libraries. Unfortunately, as school funding is cut, library staff are among the first to be let go, despite research linking future student success to the presence of strong school libraries that 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.

ALA asks congress to fully fund LSTA at the $232 million level it authorized in December 2010. Their position is that while the current budgetary situation requires careful scrutiny of all programs, library funding returns unique value to communities. The economic downturn has increased overall library usage and funding should be held at least neutral to recognize this value.

Oregon is very fortunate to have strong library supporters in Congress. If you are interested in ensuring strong, well-funded libraries, contact your members of Congress and ask for full support of these important library issues.

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