Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Supporting FY 2018 Funding for Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program: the Plea of a Foreigner

All along, since Julie Todaro, the American Library Association (ALA) President started the campaign to win the support of the Congress against cuts in funding of Libraries for FY 2018 in the Federal budget, I just felt there is little I could do, for certain reasons:
1. I am an international member of the ALA, a non-US citizen, a non-permanent resident at that;
2. in close relation to the above is the major focus of the campaign, which is aimed at getting the Senators representing our constituencies to support library funding. This could be done by visiting their offices, phoning or tweeting them among others. Though, I did one or two general tweets but never to a senator since you can guess why.
I am not equally surprised at the campaign and the passion with which the ALA presidents is handling it especially coming on the back of FY 2017 when the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) got a $1 million increase over FY2016. Naturally, given the continuing achievement of libraries and the important role they play in American civilization, one would have imagined a further push in federal funding. Alas! the reverse is the case. And to nip the actual reverse in the gains made by libraries over the years, we all really must get the Congress to stop any unwarranted cut through this campaign or protest sought of.
But a reflection on the whole campaign last night got me thinking of what I could really do on my own part, and unfortunately, a day or so to the deadline. I can write a blog post. I can speak up in defense of what I fancied most about America, the Library and her excellent reading culture. Excellent, compared to near nothing culture of reading on this side of the Atlantic. So, I remembered the memoir I posted on my blog- Journey to the Largest Library in the World and the Need for a Library-Conscious Nigerian Society
I remembered what I saw during library visits at the Spring-turned-Winter of 2016 in communities and institutions in the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and the DC. I remembered how fascinated I was about the devotion of the people, very young and very old, to reading and the commitment of governments, individuals, and corporations to library development. I remembered seeing libraries as the epicenters of communities, the hub for citizens and students' square and enduring symbols of their civilization. I remembered, in particular, the excitement with which a bartender at a restaurant in Downtown/Magnificent Mile, Chicago, upon discovering that we are librarians said "I love library". He even went on to query the five of us, 2016 IFLA/OCLC Fellows and two of our program coordinators, "what is your favorite book?" He told us his own and narrated with excitement some of his "bad" library habits. There I saw a busy bartender loving the library and book. I remembered the great investment that must have gone to developing library infrastructure which most often than not are deliberately intended as legacies and monuments of the communities they serve.
Little wonder, libraries are seen as "critical national infrastructure" by over 80 companies which President Todaro reported to "have now signed CCLI’s May 17 letter to all Senators explicitly asking them to sign the LSTA and IAL Dear Appropriator letters and making the economic case that libraries are “critical national infrastructure.”
All the successes of a library friendly society that I saw in America can be directly traced to the love and funding support of governments for libraries. This is captured in the words of one of the fathers of America, Thomas Jefferson, who famously said "I can not live without books". This inscription boldly expressed on the wall of his section of the Library of Congress has remained a huge impetus for my push for a reading Nigerian society. And since my return from the USA, my overall attitude towards library development have changed. All I want government or anybody with the means to do right now, and just like an inspiring great American, Andrew Carnegie, is to fund and develop libraries for and in every town and village of Nigeria. I am already thinking of engaging Nigerian government to establish Library Fund to facilitate rapid library development and to enshrine reading culture into the Nigerian society. I have, as a matter of fact, already drafted a proposal for a library-based community initiative for self-revolution and civilization built upon knowledge through library and books. I am eagerly waiting for anyone to support this my big dream for Ijan-Ekiti, my hometown. Moreover, I am already thinking of how I can engage government, corporate organisations, the Nollywood and others to revolutionize reading, love for library and imbibing of the book culture in Nigerians especially the younger folks.
All these are inspired by my visit to American communities and libraries. They came from what I learnt of a government and society that is based on library. I am now wondering what damage this cut in federal library funding will do, not only to the American reading populace but to us, the rest of the world, who gain inspiration and gather momentum for knowledge from the enviable heights America have reached with her libraries and literacy. The damage will just be collateral!
Please, Congress and everyone else that matter on the Capitol, #Support LSTA/IAL for further breakthroughs in America and global inspiration, I plea!