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LSTA Story in IACRL Newsletter

Below is an article I wrote for the Fall issue of the IACRL Newsletter, which was just released. The article covers LSTA, the Library Services and Technology Act. LSTA is the only federal legislation that focuses exclusively on libraries, making it a crucial source of funding, in addition to a barometer of the level of support for libraries more generally. The Act is up for renewal next year, so it continues to be one of the major library-related issues facing the U.S. Congress right now.

 

Legislative Focus: Library Services and Technology Act

Budget cuts and other funding issues continue to be one of the pressing challenges facing libraries these days. Complicating the issue is that funding comes from many different sources, and it is often included with funding for other institutions and programs. One of the more important sources of funding for libraries of all types, including academic libraries, is LSTA.

LSTA, which stands for the Library Services and Technology Act, is the only federal legislation that is devoted exclusively to libraries. The main purpose of LSTA is to enhance access to information for library users from all walks of life and from every age group. LSTA does so by combining a number of federal library programs. In the process, the Act facilitates collaboration among libraries, from the state level to the international level. There is a particular emphasis on using technology to improve services to library users.

LSTA was last reauthorized under the Museum and Library Services Act of 2010, and the Act will be up for reauthorization again in 2015, making it one of the key issues for libraries in the upcoming legislative session. The total amount of funding set aside for LSTA at the time it was last reauthorized was $232 million, an increase over the $213.5 million previously allotted LSTA. At the Illinois level, the State Library receives funds and then distributes them among various projects. The total amount of funding that Illinois received in 2014 was approximately $5.5 million, a decrease from $6.5 million in 2010.

Even though LSTA covers libraries of all types, a significant portion of the funding does go to academic libraries. One of the recent projects facilitated by LSTA-funded grants took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. The grant enabled the school to add almost 134,000 records to the online catalog, while removing over 238,000 records. This has made searching UIUC’s online catalog easier.

Another project at the Illinois level was the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries). This project was carried out among five Illinois universities. The purpose of the project was to determine how students go about completing a research assignment for class, and also, to clarify the expectations that librarians, students, and faculty members have of each other in the research process. The project accomplished this by focusing on specific user needs, rather than more general surveys or the opinions of librarians. Through these findings, ERIAL will enable librarians to serve students better and provide more effective assistance with research.

Illinois is already looking ahead to LSTA-funded projects in 2015 and beyond. Among the specific goals the State Library has identified are civic engagement, information access, and lifelong learning. Academic libraries will likely be part of the effort to meet some, if not all, of these goals.

The importance of LSTA-and of library funding more generally-lies not just in allowing libraries to continue providing existing services and to add new ones. It also reflects the value that society places upon libraries, and the public’s willingness to see libraries as a vital institution. That is why advocating for LSTA, and all other types of library funding, is more crucial than ever.

 

Sources

American Library Association page on LSTA

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/federallegislation/lsta

LSTA State Profile: Illinois

http://www.imls.gov/programs/state_profile_Illinois.aspx

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