Carter, Javits, Kennedy, and the library campaign
Where is the action on America's public libraries during this first National Library Week since last fall's big White House conference on libraries? The most important action, of course, never hits the headlines. It is that vital individual encounter between reader and book, between information user and today's array of information sources, which takes place all over the country every day -- or at least every day where library hours have not been curtailed under budget-cutting knives. But official concern for libraries is being displayed on at least three tracks in Washington -- the White House, the new Department of Education, and the congress. The need is for action to follow without undue delay.
At the White House the Domestic Council is in its typical post-conference position --considering the resolutions for legislation and other proposals submitted by November's five-day Conference on Libraries and Information Services. Since this first conference of its kind did not meet until two decades after it was first proposed, the assumption might be made that action on libraries is somewhat equivalent to the thundering hush that used to be found in their reading rooms before the copying machines started muttering in the hallways. President Carter will not look good if he allows these proposals to linger on the shelves very long after his words to the conference about the crucial role of libraries in helping to create the informed public that can prevent a president from making mistakes.
As for the new Department of Education, it is in the midst of decisions on how federal library programs can be most effectively organized under its administrative umbrella.
But the most specific Washington steps toward action on public libraries are being taken in Congress. Today, for example, committee hearings on federal funding of public and school libraries are being held by the House of Representatives. One question is to find out just how bad the plight of libraries is. Here the picture, dark as it may be in many places, is not all black. Some communities are stoutly keeping up investment in a service that is properly seen as more than a "frill." But, with needs such as the new information technology rapping on the door, and with state and local funding under fiscal siege, the possibility of increasing Washington's five percent share of the nation's library funding has to be addressed.
Congress is contemplating further hearings in the fall, joint House-Senate evets in various parts of the country. These should go some way toward ensuring the public input to decisions that was one of the needs identified at the White House conference.
But Congress is so tied up with other business that proposed new legislation on libraries is somewhat like a library book that is repeatedly renewed but never actually returned. It is almost a year since Senators Javits and Kennedy introduced a study bill for a proposed National Library Act. Now the appropriate Senate subcommittee doubts that it will be able to take it up until 1981. It would be sad if this same editorial has to be written during the next National Library Week.
One likelihood is that elements from this bill will find their way into a revised version of the existing Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA). Certainly the main provisions introduced last May are still worth wide consideration:
* Establishment of a National Library Agency to aid -- but not control -- local and state library services.
* Direct financial assistance to public libraries for operating expenses on a matching federal-state-local basis, with alternative funding for specific needs of states unable at first to meet the matching requirements.
* Continued federal aid for library construction, expanded to include conversion of existing structures to library use as well as new construction.
* Federal grants for implementing such programs as library training, services for the handicapped, extension of services to other publicly supported institutions.
* Reenactment of LSCA provisions authorizing funding of interlibrary cooperation programs, expanded to include development of information networks between states.
* Special training programs for library personnel to develop skills related to community needs.
Such provisions at a minimum indicate the kinds of things to be thought about as America's libraries start a new decade.