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Tuesday, February 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Kim Wyman: President’s proposed cuts would devastate Washington libraries

Libraries play a vital role in our communities. Thanks to the many services and programs they provide, local libraries help transform lives and strengthen communities.

Unfortunately, many libraries face a darker future depending on what happens in the other Washington later this year.

The president’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget would eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the primary source of federal support for the 123,000 libraries and roughly 35,000 museums in the U.S.

This federal funding cut would have a significant impact on the Washington State Library, as well as local libraries such as the Spokane Public Library. For instance, IMLS funding helps support patron access to a collection of research databases featuring a diversified mix of magazines, scholarly journals, trade publications and other resources across 150 subject areas.

Money from IMLS also funds the Spokane Public Library’s Connected Learning project, which provides training and digital library resources to help equip customers to operate in an increasingly digital world. Connected Learning courses offer small-business owners training in creating an online presence, selling on the internet, using social media to promote their businesses, online banking and video promotion. These courses provide workforce development for unemployed and underemployed individuals seeking help on word processing skills, how to conduct online job searches and how to upload documents and fill out online forms.

Each year, our State Library receives an average of $3.2 million in federal funding, which provides a variety of services to Washington libraries, their staff and residents statewide.

Many of the State Library’s programs and staff positions are made possible through federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funding provided by IMLS.

It funds grants, resources and services provided to local community libraries, such as summer reading programs, nonfiction books for school libraries, training for teacher-librarians, library trustee training, STEM training kits for local libraries to borrow, and a host of other services and support for libraries.

The money also fully or partially funds:

    The Ask-WA 24/7 reference service that is a cooperative of more than 60 libraries throughout Washington, both public and academic, providing online reference services through chat, email and instant messaging.

    The software used to provide the State Library’s Ask a Librarian service, in which State Library staff are available to answer questions via email and chat 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

    The nationally acclaimed Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, which provides audio and braille books for patrons of all ages who are unable to read standard print.

    Several statewide databases, two e-book and audiobook consortiums, and staff training and development.

Perhaps most importantly, LSTA funding supports Washington’s prison libraries, a hugely successful program operated by the State Library. In fact, Washington is the only state whose State Library provides in-prison resources and staff. Many inmates cite access to the prison library as an influential factor in their preparation for life after release. These libraries help improve inmate literacy and prepare them with skills and information they need once they are released and re-enter society.

The good news is the president recently signed into law a spending bill to fund the federal government through September, including full funding for IMLS. The bad news is that Congress and the president must pass a new budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year and IMLS funding is once again on the chopping block.

When I traveled to D.C. early this year, I met with members of our state’s congressional delegation and asked them to support keeping IMLS funding in the federal budget. State Librarian Cindy Aden and a group of local librarians from our state recently returned from a similar trip and told federal lawmakers how these cuts would devastate not only our local libraries but Washington communities.

Local libraries are unsung heroes in our cities and towns, providing a wide variety of services and programs that are open and free to the public and benefit young and old alike – and everyone in between.

Libraries are part of what make America great, but if federal funding for local libraries and the State Library is cut, many of the programs and services they provide will be cut, too.

Kim Wyman is Washington’s secretary of state.

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