After years of solid federal funding increases for libraries, library leaders say they are discouraged by the FY2022 budget signed into law last week by President Biden—and are gearing up for a challenging FY2023 funding push as well.
Signed into law on March 11, the reconciled FY2022 budget (which began on October 1, 2021) contained only flat funding for the LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) at $197.4 million—despite the House last summer approving a $9 million increase that would have taken LSTA funding to $206.5 million. LSTA funding, which is administered by the IMLS (Institute for Museum and Library Services) through grants to states, is the primary source of federal funding dedicated to America’s libraries.
In addition, IAL funding (The Innovative Approaches to Literacy program, the only source of federal funding dedicated to school libraries) received only a modest $1 million increase in the reconciled bill, raising the program to $29 million, despite the House approving a $3 million boost last summer.
Amid rising inflation and continued economic volatility and uncertainty as the country emerges from the pandemic, flat funding is essentially a cut.
“With inflation rising above 7%, level funding is not enough for libraries to maintain current programming and facilities, let alone meet the ever-increasing demand for library services,” said ALA President Patty Wong in a statement. “Even though the emergency of the pandemic may have subsided, the needs of people emerging out of it persist. Over the past two years libraries in every context—school, public, academic and others—have filled in gaps that suddenly came into focus, such as access to broadband, digital technology, and specialized services. Now is not the time to pull back federal funding for libraries and the dedicated library workers who face, eye to eye, the most pressing needs of Americans from all walks of life.”
The FY2022 budget wasn’t all bad news for libraries: a handful of other library-related programs received modest budget increases, including the Education Department, the Library of Congress, the Government Publishing Office, National Library of Medicine; and the NEA and NEH. In addition, ALA says the budget contains nearly $35 million in earmarks for 31 specific library projects nationally, mostly addressing renovation and construction needs as well as funding to explore a handful of projects, including $2 million to create an “information literacy task force.”
Librarians are hoping for good news in President Biden’s FY2023 budget blueprint, which is expected soon. But ALA officials say the FY2022 final budget looms as a warning sign for the library community to ramp up its advocacy efforts, especially in what figures to be a tough midterm election year.
“Whatever the direction taken by the administration, library advocates must work to inform our lawmakers as well as we inform our patrons of the vital role libraries play in strengthening communities,” Wong said. “This disappointment is a wake-up call for library advocates: we can’t rest on past success, and we will have to work even harder to make our case in this competitive political climate.”