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Good News from Washington, D.C.

December 19, 2014 ET

By Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

The past two weeks have been busy ones for IMLS. We have been following three new developments in Washington, D.C. that will impact the work of U.S. libraries and museums for months and years to come.

On December 10, President Obama convened educators, advocates, policymakers, corporate supporters, and prominent early education leaders for the White House Summit on Early Education. Not only did the event elevate this issue to the highest level in Washington, it made a call for all sectors—government at all levels, private organizations, and philanthropies—to work together to improve the quality of early education for America’s youngest learners. At the summit, commitments of more than $220 million in new actions from private organizations and philanthropies were made. Together with federal awards from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, this collective investment tops $1 billion. At the event, the President announced the launch of Invest in US, an effort by the nonprofit First Five Years Fund to connect communities and states that want to expand their early learning programs to 10 leading partners that will provide resources, planning grants, technical assistance, and other support.

It is thrilling to see the groundswell of support for an issue that has been a strategic priority for IMLS. The Institute’s latest early learning initiative is also a public-private effort. Our partnership with the BUILD initiative will better integrate museums and libraries into statewide early childhood systems, and teams are already forming in five pilot states. IMLS has worked intensively with partners, like the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and has provided grants of over $8.3 million in the last three years, to support and promote the vital early learning work of libraries and museums.

On December 11, our attention turned from the White House to the Federal Communications Commission. At an Open Commission Meeting, the agency announced a dramatic expansion of the E-rate program. This is the first expansion of the program that, for 18 years, has provided funding to schools and libraries for broadband connectivity. The FCC’s historic E-Rate Modernization Order will provide schools and libraries additional flexibility and options for purchasing broadband services and an additional $1.5 billion in funding starting in 2015.

This is a major win for the library community and has been years in the making. Two summers ago, we discussed E-rate at the Aspen Institute Dialogue on the Future of Libraries. Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt described the importance of that meeting in his Aspen Institute blog about the E-Rate Modernization Order. IMLS held its first public hearing on the need for high-speed broadband in America’s libraries in Washington, D.C., in April 2014. At our “Libraries and Broadband: Urgency and Impact” hearing, we establish a public record about the importance of high-speed broadband at libraries with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and high-level philanthropic leaders, policy experts, researchers, and elected officials.

The final news from Washington this week concerns the federal budget. On Tuesday night, President Obama signed into law the trillion-dollar spending bill to fund most federal agencies through fiscal year 2015. The budget for IMLS is $227,860,000. It includes $180,909,000 for library services (through the Library Services and Technology Act) and $30,131,000 for museum services (through the Museum Services Act and the African American History and Culture Act). This funding is an increase from last year of one million dollars to assist the agency with a planned office move in 2015.

During these busy times, IMLS is working especially hard to connect with other federal agencies, with lawmakers on the Hill, with foundations, nonprofits, and service organizations. Through these networks and collaborations, we are amplifying the message of your work and the essential role of museums and libraries in American society.