President Trump released his proposed federal budget for 2021, and among the many cuts to social services, the plan would eliminate funding for the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. The president has suggested this each year that he has been in office, and each year, Pitkin County Board of trustees President John Wilkinson has traveled to Washington D.C. to dissuade Colorado’s congress members to vote against the proposal.
“Funding for libraries has been zeroed out every budget that Trump has submitted to congress. Not a zero increase, zeroed out,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson, who has also formerly served as a town council member in Snowmass Village, has been making the trek to D.C. for nearly 20 years in his role with the American Library Association Legislative Advocacy Group, but past administrations have always kept the fund alive and steady, if not growing.
“I’m sure if you double or triple the funding for libraries the money could be and would be well spent. But right now we are just working on reauthorization of what it was last year,” Wilkinson said.
Most regional libraries, including Pitkin County’s, are supported through mill levies and property taxes, which Wilkinson said he supports.
“I feel that that is appropriate because communities should be involved in decisions involving libraries,” Wilkinson said.
But the $2.8 million distributed to Colorado annually through the IMLA assists in funding bigger programs that local communities can’t afford. Wilkinson cited a program in Lamar, Colo., encouraging parents to read to their children to increase literacy.
“As a result of that one program, reading scores started going up pretty dramatically.
These are the kind of projects that go on in the state of Colorado in the use of that money,” Wilkinson said.
The most recent reports available show that nearly $40,000 was distributed to Roaring Fork Valley libraries and schools from the IMLA fund in 2017. The money went to programs like Check Out Colorado State Parks program, early literacy research, and the interlibrary loan program. Funding also went to the Aspen Institute to host a forum and provide a report that spelled out four recommendations for keeping Colorado libraries relevant in the information age.
Joining Wilkinson on the May trip to D.C. for National Library Legislative Day is Nicolle Davies, assistant commissioner, Colorado State Library. Two thirds of the State Library’s funding comes directly from IMLA.
“If this funding was to be cut, it would impact all services to libraries, including research, professional development, institutional libraries, school, public and higher ed libraries, resource sharing, and state publications,” Davies said.
Though Trump has threatened the program each year, Congress has not approved the cuts. The Colorado contingent spends a full day meeting with representatives and senators giving their pitch for maintaining the funding in the budget.
“It’s really tough in this climate in D.C., because there are a lot of organizations out there that are struggling that would like funding and we all appreciate that, but we feel that funding for libraries is critical to a lot of communities throughout the country and throughout Colorado,” Wilkinson said.
Though the threat of the budget cut has been sidestepped up until now, Wilkinson said it still sends a message that the president does not find the work done by libraries in local communities to be worth funding.
“It sends warning signals all over library communities throughout the county that we have some educating to do with our congresspeople to let them know that this money is well spent, and is necessary for the states and the communities in which it goes to,” Wilkinson said.
He said he has met directly with the majority of Colorado’s federal representatives over the year, and in general the reception has always been positive.
“These are still working people. Yes they are Republicans, yes the are Democrats but
I have faith in our system and I have faith in our political process after having met with most all of our representatives over the years that they do listen and they do care for the most part.” he said.
Plus, advocating for libraries is something Wilkinson believes is crucial to local communities, and the coordinated message of the group trip to D.C. pays off.
“As a group we do put out a good message and we believe in our mission, and for the most part we are successful in at least educating (Congress) on the importance of the library communities throughout Colorado,” Wilkinson said.“I would not have put in the time I have if I thought it wasn’t worth it.”