Trump budget devalues libraries
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As National Library Week begins April 9, the Trump administration and Republican Party have launched an unprecedented attack on the institution by submitting a zero budget request for the Institute for Library and Museum Services.

ILMS Director Dr. Kathryn Matthew notes that $214 million of the $230 million budget goes directly to grants to state and local libraries, including $155 million distributed through a population-based formula grant.

Library advocates, including urban librarians, who recently met at the Brooklyn Public Library, are torn between their own needs and a variety of other cuts, ranging from fuel assistance to Medicare, which affect the populations they serve.

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Other agencies which advance knowledge and creativity, such as the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and Corporation for Public Broadcasting, get similar short shrift.

 

More than 100 representatives have signed on to a "Dear Appropriator" letter to the House Appropriations Committee to restore ILMS funding. 

However, similar appeals are coming from a variety of interests, creating a "resistance roulette" designed to have those constituencies cannibalize each other.

Perhaps the best way to understand the importance of libraries is to go to some of the oldest libraries in the world -- in the West African country of Mali. For more than 800 years, the Songhoy people in ancient cities such as Gao have preserved hundreds of thousands of manuscripts.

In the 1300s, the most esteemed universities in the world attracted scholars to Gao, Timbuktu and Djenne.

Dr. Hassimi Oumarou Maiga, the direct descendent of Askia Muhammad, the ruler of Songhoy through the 1400s, is a research professor emeritus at the University of Bamako who has sought to preserve those manuscripts and the language by such steps as translating the Holy Qu'ran into Songhoy.

Through successive invasions since 1490, the people of the region have hidden those UNESCO World Heritage Site materials and kept them from being destroyed.

Those materials are still in danger because the library buildings where UNESCO had finally begun scanning them were destroyed by fundamentalist terrorists.

Imagine what rural libraries and urban branches in the United States hold to preserve the legacies of their often-overlooked communities. Those are the kinds of institutions which most benefit from ILMS funding.

As a board member of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, I had the privilege of participating in several capital drives for new branch libraries. The first was the Excelsior branch, in the city's lowest income neighborhood, measured by household income.

Within five minutes of the opening, every computer in the branch was in use and there were long lines at the checkout counter. The branch has the highest use by children in the city's system.

Libraries are essential to society and, particularly to democracies. Because there is a consistent budgetary theme against information and creativity, it is clear that there is a political motive to suppress transparency.

One of the most important functions of libraries is to provide citizens with the information necessarily to make decisions as intervenors or voters. Since the administration and Congress are also threatening the right to vote,  libraries are a threat to their aims.

Supporters of libraries are also those who understand the importance of those other institutions.  The response must address the underlying philosophy —a sure route to totalitarianism — and not just the budget numbers.

Boosting library funding would make our communities safer and smarter. That explains why they're under attack.

John William Templeton is a library laureate of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and a history advisor to the Paramount Chief (Amiru Songhoy) of the Songhoy People of West Africa. He is the former editor of the San Jose Business Journal, Richmond Business Journal and the Winston Salem Chronicle. His work appears regularly in the San Francisco Chronicle.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.