Federal Library Authorization Act Signed Into Law

On December 19, the House of Representatives passed the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA) by a margin of 331–28, and it was signed into law on December 31. The bill, also known as S. 3530, reauthorizes the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through 2025.

On December 19, the House of Representatives passed the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA) by a margin of 331–28, and it was signed into law by President Trump on December 31. The bill, also known as S. 3530, reauthorizes the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through 2025. This bill largely mirrors the previous authorization, which expired in 2016, and also contains provisions to enable more tribal libraries to participate in IMLS grant programs, explicitly permits use of IMLS funding for disaster preparedness and assistance, and encourages greater use of data-driven tools to measure the impact of library services.

While MLSA does not ensure full funding for IMLS programs, nor is the reauthorization necessary for IMLS to receive federal dollars, authorization represents a strong vote of confidence and will augment the agency’s chances of getting the funding it needs to support libraries nationwide.

“We are thrilled that Congress has passed the Museum and Library Services Act by an overwhelming majority,” said American Library Association (ALA) president Loida García-Febo in a statement. “By reauthorizing IMLS through 2025, Congress has reaffirmed the essential role of the federal government in partnering with the nation's 120,000 libraries to serve our communities. MLSA reauthorization will give IMLS the legislative backing to continue providing resources for libraries to offer high speed internet access, promote digital literacy, serve our veterans, develop the workforce, and much more.”

UNSTICKING THE BILL

S. 3530 was introduced in both the Senate and the House on September 28. The Senate version was led by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) along with 11 cosponsors: Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY.), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA.). The House version was introduced by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), with a bipartisan group of representatives including Will Hurd (R-TX), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), and David McKinley (R-WV). Reed first introduced a version of the legislation in December 2017; this year’s bill is a result of input from ALA, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), and other library professionals.

On December 4, after some discussion on both sides of the aisle about on the bill’s final content, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed MLSA. "We were pretty confident that bill was going to go through the House quickly, because in the [early December] negotiations we felt that this is a bill that would meet the needs of libraries,” said Kevin Maher, deputy director of government relations at the ALA Washington Office. “We had had plenty of opportunities to talk with the authors of the bill in the House and the Senate about what that was going to look like. We thought the improvements in the bill were very positive, and would provide a lot of resources in areas that libraries needed.”

But as the 115th Congress prepared to wind up before adjourning for the year, the bill stalled in the offices of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Although the House had originally consented to passing the Senate bill without changes so that it could be moved forward quickly, Reps. Ryan and McCarthy voiced objections, citing potential violations of the internal Republican CUTGO (Cut-As-You-Go) rule, which prioritizes spending cuts over revenue increases—an issue when authorization levels exceed appropriations levels.

On hearing that the bill had stalled, ALA mobilized its grassroots advocates, requesting that they contact Ryan and McCarthy and urge them to bring the bill to the floor.

“We first targeted the leadership offices of Ryan and McCarthy,” Maher told LJ. “We were really able to generate some support in [Wisconsin and California]. We had two letters to the editors that were published in Wisconsin local papers, urging the speaker to allow the bill to go forward. After a couple of days we expanded our efforts to have a broad membership advocacy campaign to unstick the bill.”

Initially House insiders had cautioned ALA that the bill probably wouldn’t pass, advising the Washington Office to think about reintroducing it in 2019, said Maher. “But we knew our members were going to continue to put the pressure on and bring noise on the issue,” he said. And on Friday, December 14, a congressional staffer sent word that the bill was not dead.”

On Monday, December 17, S. 3530 had been added to the list of bills under consideration, and on December 18, when House leadership released the schedule for the following day, the bill had made its way onto the House suspension calendar. Suspension votes are generally used to quickly pass non-controversial bills, although the rules change slightly—legislation needs to pass with two-thirds of the vote, rather than a simple majority.

Because of that, said Maher, “We were a little concerned…. We didn't want to antagonize any members that hadn't decided, or maybe weren't focused on this issue. We wanted to make sure we kept the no votes to a minimum.” ALA’s targeted advocacy strategy paid off, and the bill passed late December 19 by a wide margin.

Trump signed the bill into law before the year's end, and hopes are high that while funding for IMLS may again be a contentious line item in the federal budget request come March 2019, MLSA will help assure its continuance.

In addition to the work done by ALA’s Washington Office and the bill’s backing on Capitol Hill, the grassroots advocacy by library supporters across the country has proved invaluable in passing MLSA. “I think that made all the difference, to have our membership active in the field,” Maher told LJ.” Advocacy is not just something that happens in Washington. It happens year round—it happens in the field, in the district."

“This bill would never have passed this Congress without the year-round advocacy of ALA members,” said García-Febo. “This is a victory for library workers and everyone who believes that strong libraries mean strong communities.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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