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Thursday, June 15, 2017 12:08 am

Trump slashes budget for museums and libraries

A family explores the Illinois State Museum’s Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum.


Medicaid, education, the environment and social services are some of the high-profile issues affected by the Trump FY 2018 budget proposal. There are many additional impacts on small federal agencies, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). If you have visited the children’s Play Museum at the Illinois State Museum or checked out a book through an interlibrary loan, you’ve been the beneficiary of IMLS-funded projects. The Trump budget proposal would shut down IMLS and eliminate all grants to museums and libraries.

IMLS is a small federal agency that has a big impact. The mission of IMLS is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning and cultural and civic engagement. Donald Trump wants to totally eliminate this federal agency, which has previously enjoyed strong bipartisan support. In 2010 Congress passed the IMLS-reauthorization bill unanimously.

President Trump’s FY 2018 federal budget would reduce IMLS funding by $208 million.  The Illinois State Library would lose its $5.5 million annual allocation for programs that impact libraries statewide, and museums could no longer apply for competitive grants.  Libraries receive significantly more funding than museums through IMLS. There is a longstanding and successful federal-state partnership funded through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Using a population-based formula, IMLS distributes more than $150 million annually to states for library programs. To receive these funds, states must develop a five-year plan and commit to a match and ongoing financial support.

“Illinois libraries and the residents they serve rely on the $5.5 million in Library Services and Technology Act funds provided to our state by the Institute of Museum and Library Services,” said Jesse White, Secretary of State and State Librarian.  “The quality of life for Illinois residents and the communities in which they live are enhanced through the library services and programs supported by LSTA federal funding.”

For example, Illinois citizens have always been able to count on free interlibrary loan services from any library in the state.  LSTA funds support operation of the interlibrary delivery network.   Since 2013, at no cost to the recipient, more than 40 million items have been transported between academic, public, school and special libraries as Illinois residents borrowed materials that were not available at their home library. Last year, Lincoln Library, the Chatham Area Public Library District and the Rochester Public Library District borrowed nearly 50,000 resources through interlibrary loan to meet the eclectic reading and information needs of their library users.   Based on the average cost of a hardback book, this service saved area residents over $1 million.  

Last year Illinois residents conducted over 1.7 million searches in online databases purchased with LSTA funds – more than 4,600 searches every day.  These trustworthy databases provide reliable information from thousands of resources for information seekers of all ages. Users of Springfield’s Lincoln Library access information in LSTA-funded online resources an average of 2,000 times each month.  Most of these copyrighted resources cannot be found using Google. For example, library users have access to WorldCat, the world’s largest network of library content.  Article First offers searching and browsing of articles and tables of contents from over 16,000 journals on topics related to science, technology, medicine, social science, business, the humanities and popular culture. The Catalog of Art Museum Images Online contains over 95,000 art images and descriptions from leading museums throughout the world.

The federal Office of Museum Services typically receives a little over $30 million annually and administers several highly competitive grant programs for museums of all types and sizes. Every year museum applications far exceed funds available. Illinois is home to outstanding museums and is highly successful in competing for these grants. From 2014-2016 there were 38 grants to Illinois museums totaling $5.3 million.  

IMLS grants often have a significant return on investment. The Play Museum at the Illinois State Museum took several years to come to fruition, but it started with a $150,000 Museums for America grant from IMLS to develop plans for a new hands-on children’s area. This grant was essential in laying the foundation for the museum to launch the largest private fundraising effort in its history to develop the new children’s area. The Play Museum is still one of the museum’s most popular attractions.

Another local example of IMLS funding is the Oral History of Illinois Agriculture project, a joint initiative of the Illinois State Museum and Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, funded through a $565,000 National Leadership Grant. Through this multi-year project, more than 130 oral histories and videos were recorded about all aspects of Illinois agriculture and rural life and are accessible online in a searchable format http://avbarn.museum.state.il.us/.

In addition, IMLS annually awards the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, which honors outstanding institutions that make significant contributions to their communities. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie was one of just 10 libraries and museums nationwide to receive the 2017 recognition. The Illinois Fire Service Institute Library in Champaign was a finalist for the award. The Chicago History Museum received the award in 2016. Winners are honored at an annual award ceremony, which often takes place at the White House.

IMLS also conducts research to ensure grant programs are designed to meet the needs of museums, libraries and communities. According to IMLS, there are approximately 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums in the United States. IMLS is the primary federal agency that supports these cultural organizations. The true beneficiaries, however, are the millions of citizens who use our nation’s libraries and museums. Over 169 million people in the U.S. over the age of 14 are library users. Annually, 148 million people in the U.S. over the age of 18 visit a museum. Libraries and museums are critical to education of youth and adults, are economic engines and serve as community anchors.

The CEOs of the American Library Association (ALA) and American Alliance of Museums (AAM) are united in their belief that eliminating federal funding for libraries and museums is counterproductive and shortsighted. AAM President and CEO Laura Lott called the proposal appalling, and noted, “We will continue to work with our bipartisan allies in Congress to reject these destructive proposals, and I encourage everyone who believes in a thriving cultural sector to join our efforts today.”

ALA President Julie Todaro said, “Libraries leverage the tiny amount of federal funds they receive through their states into an incredible range of services for virtually all Americans everywhere to produce what could well be the highest economic and social return on investment in the entire federal budget. The range of services provided to millions of Americans through LSTA grants is matched only by the creativity of the libraries that receive them – veterans transitioning to civilian life, small businesses seeking to expand their business online, summer reading programs, resources for blind and hearing-impaired patrons, resumé writing and job skills workshops and computer coding courses to teach youth 21st century job skills. And they’re staffed by the original search engines: skilled and engaged librarians.”

Karen Ackerman Witter is a former associate director of the Illinois State Museum. She participated in numerous American Alliance of Museums advocacy days, where a top priority was communicating with members of Congress about the value of IMLS.


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