If you say “IMLS” to most folks, even to those familiar with Uncle Sam’s endless stream of abbreviations and acronyms, you’ll get a blank stare.
You can spell out the Institute of Museum and Library Services, but the recognition won’t be much better.
Yet this small federal agency has extensive reach across the country, supporting educational and cultural activities for people who will never know how those experiences are funded.
They should enjoy them while they can.
If President Trump gets his way, the institute, along with 18 other agencies, will be eliminated. It finances programs at 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.
When Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, got the news, she was “shocked and devastated.” The organization is mobilizing congressional opposition to the budget plan she called “counterproductive and short-sighted.”
Eliminating the agency would not save much money, just $230 million dollars — Sam’s pocket change compared with Trump’s plan to slash $54 billion from domestic discretionary spending. Like staffers at the other agencies on death row, the institute’s 73 employees would face not only unemployment but also the loss of a devoted mission.
“Since its inception 20 years ago, the Institute of Museum and Library Services has provided critical support enabling museums and libraries across the country to make a tremendous difference in their communities,” IMLS Director Kathryn K. Matthew said in a statement when the budget was released. “The institutions we serve provide vital resources that contribute significantly to Americans’ economic development, education, health, and well-being whether by facilitating family learning and catalyzing community change or stimulating economic development through job training and skills development.”
For Trump, however, that mission isn’t critical to his effort “to redefine the proper role of the Federal Government,” as his budget blueprint describes it.
When daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted to promote National Library Week last week, Todaro responded on Twitter with “libraries do great work with federal funds for states @realdonaldtrump wants to wipe out . . . #saveIMLS”
In his budget message, Trump said he aims to create “a Government that puts the needs of its own people first.” The people apparently don’t need library and museum services enough to meet his requirements.
He should listen to the library and museum officials from throughout the country who told us how the cuts would affect their operations.
David Smolen, Conway, N.H., public-library director: “There are a number of ways elimination of IMLS and LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act grants) would damage our libraries.” He cited talking books for the blind, downloadable books, research databases and staff positions subject to layoffs.
Laura Pitts, Scottsboro, Ala., public-library director: “In the past four years we have increased our summer participation from 150 children to over 500, and the number continues to grow, all because we have had the funds available to us through the LSTA and IMLS to develop new projects, new learning and new literacy initiatives for families to take part in.”
Omar Poler, American Indian Library Association president: “Since most American Indian communities have little to no tax base, tribal libraries are especially sensitive to reductions in IMLS funding. The loss of IMLS and its Native American Library Services Program will mean the loss of countless opportunities for lifelong learning. In a very real way, this budget is an attack on Indian Country’s right to know.”
Greg Lucas, California state librarian: “For public libraries, federal funds pay for literacy efforts, lunches for poor kids during the summer. . . . promote adult and early-childhood literacy, provide mental-health training for librarians, offer summer reading programs for kids and adults,” among a list of other programs.
Karen Bosch Cobb, project adviser, Pacific Library Partnership in San Mateo, Calif.: “Since its inception in 2012, Veterans Connect @ the Library has served well over 27,000 veterans or family members at 50 public library sites in California. Volunteers and staff provide one-on-one extended research about available benefits, thus serving as an entry point into the complex arena of services for veterans and family members. . . . The elimination of IMLS will mean that the expansion and maintenance of this program is no longer possible.”
Christine Anagnos, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors: “Seattle’s Frye Museum . . . Here:Now program gives adults living with dementia and their care partners a creative way to connect through artmaking classes as part of the museum’s Creative Aging Programs…IMLS plays a critical role in enhancing the quality of life in communities across the nation.”
Denise Keller, Pinal County librarian, Florence, Ariz.: “In 2013, we received a grant for $36,880 to help us start an eBook collection. The expenses associated with the purchase of the platform, setup and a starting collection was beyond what our local budgets could bear. Now we have a growing collection, thanks to the seed money from IMLS.”
Rob Vernon, Association of Zoos & Aquariums senior vice president: “The funding IMLS provides is an example of government spending that has a clear impact. Zoos and aquariums use the funds to deliver science-based educational opportunities to thousands of kids. If IMLS is zeroed out, the reach of these programs will most certainly be diminished, if not eliminated.”
Amber Mathewson, Pima County Public Library director in Tucson: “If people haven’t been to a public library in a while, they should go into their library and see what’s happening.” She cited photography, video and 3-D printing projects, among others.
They should go soon, before Trump closes the book on many library programs.