ALA Looks at “173 Days of Congress” and What’s Ahead | ALA Annual 2019

Library legislation news has been tentatively positive, according to the panel discussion “173 Days of Congress: An Examination” at the 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Congress in Washington, DC. Representatives from ALA’s Washington Office and the U.S. Copyright Office looked at the successes and challenges libraries have confronted during the first six months of the 116th Congress, and identified a number of upcoming issues that advocates will want to keep an eye on.

ALA Fund Libraries logoLibrary legislation news has been tentatively positive, according to the panel discussion “173 Days of Congress: An Examination” at the 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Congress in Washington, DC. Representatives from ALA’s Washington Office and the U.S. Copyright Office looked at the successes and challenges libraries have confronted during the first six months of the 116th Congress, and identified a number of upcoming issues that advocates will want to keep an eye on.

Moderator Mario Ascencio, college librarian and managing director at the ArtCenter College of Design, Los Angeles, began with a request for a year-to-date recap from Alan Inouye, ALA’s senior director of public policy and government relations. While the news has been mixed, said Inouye, it’s not as bad as headlines might indicate. President Trump’s preliminary FY20 budget proposal released in March once again called for the elimination of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), but in May the House Appropriations Committee passed a funding bill that contained a $25 million increase for IMLS, including $17 million dedicated to the Library Services and Technology Act’s (LSTA) Grant to States program. The House markup also included a $2 million increase for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program, bringing overall IMLS funding to $267 million, LSTA funding up to $206.3 million, and IAL to $29 million.

In addition, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, also known as S. 1010—which would have made the Register of Copyrights position subject to presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, and set a ten-year term limit—died on the Senate floor at the end of 2018. It has not been reintroduced in any form, leaving the office in its existing home in the Library of Congress under Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden.

This year saw several other positive developments: in January, ALA partnered with Google for the Grow with Google initiative, a national workforce development program to be implemented in libraries. And the ALA Policy Corps has selected its second cohort and begun training.

The U.S. Copyright Office has been stepping up proactive work to help people understand copyright, said panelist Catherine Rowland, Associate Register of Copyrights. For example, she asked, “Who here is a copyright owner?” The answer, she said, is everyone—a work no longer has to be registered to be under copyright, and the system allows for a variety of rights that encompass any work of expression, including email and phone photos. The Copyright Office is currently developing a series of informational videos about copyright, fair use, registration, and more.


What can we expect to see in the next few months?

It’s hard to know with this administration, said ALA deputy director of government relations Kevin Maher. Appropriators on both sides largely get along, he noted, and work well together even when they don’t agree. But they will have to come to an accord and pass the current budget by October 1. In the event that doesn’t happen, Congress can pass a continuing resolution—a temporary funding measure to avoid a shutdown that will fund the government for a limited amount of time—which will fund all programs at their current levels. In that event, IMLS’s $17 million increase won’t take effect during that time, thus delaying any new grant making the agency’s part.

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to repeal net neutrality rules is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court’s ruling could come out any day, said Inouye; if it is unfavorable to those—including libraries—who wish Internet service providers to treat all Internet communications on an equal basis, the case could potentially go to the Supreme Court. A Democrat-backed bill to restore net neutrality rules, H.R. 1644—also known as the Save the Internet Act— passed the House and has been received in the Senate for consideration.

The FCC has announced plans to establish a cap on the Universal Service Fund, which covers four programs including E-Rate and the Connect America Funds. In addition to potentially reducing connectivity funding for rural schools and libraries, a cap could set up a harmful dynamic where the four compete with each other for available money—“We don’t want to be fighting” for funding among necessary programs, said Inouye.

He also pointed to new developments in library e-lending that surfaced during the week before the conference: Blackstone Audio instituted an embargo of 90 days on selected titles for libraries, and Hachette Book Group changed its licensing model for both ebooks and digital audiobooks, replacing its perpetual ownership model for libraries with two-year access for ebooks and digital audiobooks. ALA is now contemplating what kind of advocacy it will do around these decisions, said Inouye. ALA Council passed a resolution to create a new joint working group to address library concerns about digital content, including by developing a variety of license models that will allow libraries to provide content more effectively, advocating for fair pricing, and creating a public awareness campaign.

In May, ALA released the Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census, an 18-page guide to help prepare libraries for next year’s count, which will be the first to be completed largely online. Libraries will be uniquely positioned to offer Internet access, answer questions, conduct outreach to hard-to-count communities, partner with Complete Count Committees, and even provide space to train community members for census jobs. In addition to helping libraries prepare for these roles, ALA’s 2020 Census Library Outreach and Education Task Force will also help them identify funding resources; federal money probably will not be available, but local, corporate, and private grants may help fill the gaps. (Look for LJ’s upcoming 2020 Census information in July.)

The decision about whether to add a question about citizenship to the census has become contentious. The case has gone as far as the Supreme Court, with ALA joining the American Statistical Association, American Sociological Association, and Population Association of America on an amicus brief opposing its inclusion. While a ruling had been expected shortly after the convention, on June 25 a Maryland district judge reopened the case of the question’s origin. This may delay the decision long enough to miss the deadline for the question to be included on the census questionnaire.


Much of the credit for positive legislative and budgetary shifts goes to the grassroots advocacy work being done across the country, noted Inouye. ALA’s mobilization efforts have been successful, he said, particularly a fly-in held at the end of February, which brought more than 90 librarians and library supporters to Washington for two days of meetings with members of Congress. The fly-in replaced National Library Legislative Day this year, which would have fallen at the same time as ALA Annual, and was instead scheduled to coincide with the beginning of the appropriations process. “We wanted an intervention closer to that time,” explained Inouye.

On a more troubling note, however, budget challenges from the administration continue to be an issue and could prove a stumbling block. Also, noted Maher, the bipartisan budget deal that recently expired will result in automatic cuts across the board if another deal isn’t reached.

This is why year-round advocacy is important, said Maher. While ALA has been successful mobilizing advocates to write “dear appropriator” letters to demonstrate support for issues during the appropriations process, they need to continuously remind Congressional staff of the many reasons libraries are important. He cited initiatives such as ALA’s library card signup day on Capitol Hill in February, and Senate briefings by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) explaining summer slide. ALA is already setting its sights on library infrastructure advocacy with the 117th Congress, which will convene in January 2021.

ALA is looking to further integrate national, state, and local advocacy. A library presence for the 2020 New Hampshire presidential primaries is being planned—to make sure the library message reaches primary winners as well as those candidates who may not advance to higher office but will still hold important political positions.

Members of Congress listen to stories, Maher noted. During the upcoming recess, invite them to your libraries, or to a town hall, he advised—“If state senators come to DC knowing what’s going on in their local libraries, that’s a big start.”

“Having a good Washington presence is important, but an at-home army is just as important,” said Inouye. He cited the grassroots mobilization in 2018, when S. 1010 went straight to the Senate floor in the last days of December and ALA’s call to action resulted in more than 20,000 emails and calls to senate offices within the week, halting the bill’s progress as the 115th Congress adjourned.

Advocates can also use their phones for action: Text the word “library” to 52886 and then follow the prompts to send elected officials a letter asking them to support libraries. And don’t forget to write and tweet to thank them afterward, Maher added. “They like to have work appreciated.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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