From Construction to Technology: An Update on Federal Funding

By Gregory, Gwen | American Libraries, June-July 1999 | Go to article overview

From Construction to Technology: An Update on Federal Funding


Gregory, Gwen, American Libraries


You may be surprised to hear that some state libraries in the United States get a third of their total budget from the federal government, most of it in the form of grants.

The federal government has supported library services with grants since the Library Services Act (LSA) took effect in 1956. The Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) succeeded LSA in 1964. Both LSA and LSCA granted funds to the state library, agencies to promote library services, especially to the under-served, and to build libraries.

Throughout the 1990s, librarians and ALA lobbied for changes to LSCA because they felt that some of its original goals had been accomplished, and federal aid should be redirected to meeting new needs, such as providing electronic access to information. Finally, in 1996 Congress made major changes in our government's information policy by enacting the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) (AL, Nov. 1996, p. 11).

How is it different?

LSTA continues to funnel federal money through the state libraries, which then distribute it to local libraries. So how is LSTA different from the good old LSCA we had grown to love? First, LSTA administration has moved to a new federal agency. Second, there are several changes in how funds may be used. Third, LSTA is for use by all types of libraries, not just public libraries as was the case with LSCA.

The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) administers the LSTA program (www.imls.fed.us/). The merger of the Institute for Museum Studies with the Department of Education's former Office of Library Programs (OLP) created this new federal agency (AL, Dec. 1995, p. 1089), part of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities. Many of the staff from the OLP moved to the IMLS, and new staff members have been hired since the move. When I visited with them last year, IMLS staffers were positive about LSTA and how it will support libraries. Jane Heiser, IMLS director of state library programs, observed that "LSTA allows a state to prioritize and target on its own. The states like this; they lobbied for it."

The second major change is that LSTA itself has new priorities. Two main goals of LSTA are electronic networking (including resource sharing) and targeting the underserved. Previously, federal funds were available for construction of library buildings; now the emphasis has shifted to building the technological infrastructure to use electronic information. Programs in this category might include setting up electronic networks between libraries or shared access to Web-based research sources. Providing service to "underserved rural and urban populations and to those with difficulty using libraries" is the second goal. Programs of this type include literacy efforts, creation of new libraries, and bookmobiles. States are allowed to divide their LSTA funds between the two objectives to meet their needs, and can spend funds centrally or give subgrants to individual libraries or consortia.

The inclusion of all types of libraries in the LSTA program is the third major change. In previous years, LSCA was devoted to the promotion and development of public libraries. Now LSTA expands availability to all libraries. This means that the state libraries, as the LSTA administering agencies, will be working with all libraries to develop and carry out LSTA programs. School, academic, and special libraries can now receive LSTA funds and take part in LSTA programs. This new emphasis should promote integration and cooperation between types of libraries. As librarians, we know that a wide variety of library resources is available in any given community. Just imagine what a patron who is interested in cooking could find in different types of libraries. An elementary school library will have picture cookbooks for children. A public library will have popular adult cookbooks as well. An academic library will have treatises on the history of food and cooking.

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