Possible Elimination of the IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has been in existence for 19 short years. The IMLS was established in 1996 under the umbrella of the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA). The MLSA authorizes both the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Museum Services Act (MSA). (Don’t you just love acronyms?)

Now in 2015, discussion is already well underway in the U.S. Congress regarding the reauthorization of the MLSA in 2016. In order for the MLSA — and consequently — the IMLS to continue to exist after Sept. 30, 2016, it must be readopted by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.

Indeed, last April, House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan released his budget proposal for FY 2015. Ryan’s proposed budget advocated cutting $5 trillion from federal balance sheets. In part, this projected budget trimming would come from the suggested elimination of the IMLS. In sharp contrast, the President’s proposed federal budget for FY 2016 includes a $9.6 million increase for IMLS.

A quote from the excerpt of the House bill/budget resolution recently passed maintains that the funding for libraries and museums previously coming out of the IMLS ‘”is not a core Federal responsibility. This function can be funded at the State and local level and augmented significantly by charitable contributions from the private sector”’. Oh, really?

Should SOA members — along with the Ohio archives, historical society, library, and museum community in general — be concerned about the possibility of losing the IMLS? We should be very apprehensive.

Why worry?

First, Ohio institutions and organizations would stand to lose significant amounts in funding and future grants from the IMLS. Ohio would also lose funding previously obtained from the LSTA if the MLSA is not reauthorized. Among past LSTA grant funding has been the digitization of special collections – a project area probably near and dear to most of our hearts. Two priorities for the IMLS in 2015 are “Learning in Libraries” and a “National Digital Platform”. IMLS currently has about $26 million targeted for grant proposals this year.

Perhaps even more important in the long run, in the event of elimination of the MLSA, would be the negative message from the Federal government regarding the importance of archives, libraries, and museums in general. Doing away with the MLSA/LSTA/IMLS would reinforce the message that the public history-, archives-, library- and museums-sector is not important enough to receive Federal funding.

To quote Susan Hildreth, current director of the IMLS: ‘We are living at a time when the strategic use of resources could not be more important. IMLS’s role – to provide leadership, funding, data, strategic partnerships, knowledge sharing, and policy analysis – helps libraries and museums improve their services.’

I suggest that SOA members follow the recommendation of the Ohio State Librarian’s Office and join the discussion on National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) on May 4-5, 2015.

Michele Tollie-Porter,
For the SOA Committee on Advocacy and Outreach