State librarian hunts dollars in DC

State Librarian Greg Lucas. (Photo: California State Library)

Prying funds out of the Trump administration may not be easy, but California State Librarian Greg Lucas is giving it a shot. And not just for California.

Amid heavy snows and the unveiling of President Trump’s first budget, Lucas went to Washington this week to urge Congress to double the funding for the nation’s public libraries to $300 million, including the more than 1,100 libraries in California.

It’s going to be a tough fight: The president’s budget today proposed deep cuts into public libraries’ existing budgets, and it would eliminate perhaps a third of the state library’s budget.

In California, more than half the population — about 22 million — have library cards.

Congress is closely divided and partisanship is deeply entrenched, but a sound library system is not a partisan issue, argues Lucas.

“Both parties are concerned with getting people into well-paying, sustainable jobs. And libraries help make that happen,” Lucas said, noting that librarians help people with everything from writing resumes to online proficiency to tutoring to job skills to scholarships.

“The general perception of libraries, particularly of those over 60, seems to be they’re some kind of Ray Bradbury wood-paneled book museum, a quaint vestige of a sepia-tinged yesteryear. You’ll find that kind of library only in the fiction section,” he said, adding that the funding he seeks is tiny in comparison with the giant federal budget.

In California, the nation’s most populous state with 39 million people, there are about 160 million library visits each year. More than half the population — about 22 million — have library cards. Other stats are similarly impressive: There are 300 dialects and languages spoken and there are 32 million internet users.

Lucas, who traveled on his own dime to get his message out, said he received support from the group representing the librarians of 22 states west of the Mississippi, the Western Council of State Libraries, and that he also hopes to meet with the incoming chair of the Western Governors Association.

He scheduled meetings with a number of House members, including Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, and David Valadao, R-Hanford. He also met with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s staff, and planned to confer with the chief of staff to the Library of Congress.

Across the country, some 123,000 public libraries handle about 300,000 job searches daily.

“You know, the thing about libraries is that the people who go there want to succeed. This is probably the cheapest way to deliver services to plug people into what they need,” he added. “When  I get a better job, I pay more taxes. At its most basic level, this is what libraries do,” Lucas said.

Ed’s Note: Updates with federal budget proposal to cut existing funds, 3rd graf.


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