The legislative session at the State House is in full swing. In January, the RILA Executive Board approved the 2021 Legislative Priorities as presented by the RILA Legislative Action Committee.
State Aid to Libraries
In recognition of the importance of public libraries in our society, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation providing for state aid for public library services. Rhode Island law (RIGL §29-6-2) establishes state aid for the support of local public library services to be equal to at least 25% of the amount appropriated and expended by the city or town from local tax revenues or funds from the public library's private endowment two years prior. RILA typically advocates to the General Assembly to fully fund state aid to Rhode Island’s public libraries at 25%. Due to financial constraints brought about by the pandemic, RILA supports level funding of state aid to libraries for FY2022.
The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC’s) December 2017 “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” grants internet service providers (ISPs) unmitigated freedom to violate net neutrality principles, while severely infringing upon Americans’ right to fair internet access and endangering the innovation economy. The internet is essential for people to have a voice in the political process and to access the viewpoints of others. Publicly supported institutions, such as libraries, universities, and K-12 schools, provide their community members with equal access to the internet. Limiting access means users’ rights to participate in democracy is diminished and the foundation of our nation’s democracy is undermined. RILA has supported legislation supporting net neutrality in 2018, 2019, and 2020. RILA supports H5054, which calls for any ISP doing business with the state of Rhode Island to adhere to net neutrality principles.
Funding for AskRI
The State of Rhode Island provides Rhode Islanders, young and old, with online access to research databases, business resources, language learning tools, and encyclopedias through AskRI.org, created and funded by the Statewide Reference Resource Center grant (RIGL §29-6-9). In 2017, state budget constraints required that the grant be reduced by $300,000, nearly one-third of the total allocated. Consequently, statewide access to online homework help (via the Tutor.com service) for students was eliminated. Several public libraries purchased subscriptions to Tutor.com after state funding was lost, further straining municipal budgets. The only genealogy research database available statewide was also lost due to these budget constraints. Restoration of these funds could be used to make critical digital content available to library users during the pandemic.
Importance of School Librarians
School librarians contribute to improved student achievement. More than 60 studies across the country have shown a correlation between professionally staffed school libraries and higher student achievement. Certified school librarians select technology and resources that are aligned to the curriculum, help students select reading materials, and collaborate with teachers to create authentic learning experiences that challenge students to think, share, create, and grow. RILA has made significant progress working with School Librarians of Rhode Island (SLRI) and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to approve the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards for School Librarians statewide and supports continuing that work with a target of Fall 2021 for adoption. RILA also supports changes to the Rhode Island Basic Education Plan or legislation that would require certified school librarians in every school receiving education funding from the state of Rhode Island.
Ebooks & Licenses
Publishers have the ability to cut libraries out of the ebook marketplace simply by refusing to sell to them. This severely limits libraries’ ability to offer ebooks to patrons who rely on the library for literature and information. RILA supports the re-introduction of the 2020 bill (S2773) that requires any publisher who licenses electronic books and digital audiobooks to the general public (consumer) in Rhode Island to also offer such licenses to libraries in the state on comparable terms.
The committee is also tracking H5148, which calls for the creation of a Rhode Island Broadband Development Plan and a Rhode Island Broadband Council. Rhode Island is one of only two states that do not have a Broadband Coordinator or other entity coordinating broadband efforts and the only New England state without one. This bill was introduced last year without librarian representation on the Council and did not pass. This year, we worked with the sponsor to have a librarian as a member of the proposed Council. RILA supports this bill and will advocate for its passage.
We are also tracking bills focused on public records, open meetings, harassment in the workplace, and minimum wage increases. These bills, although not specifically about libraries, could impact library operations.
For more information about RILA’s legislative work please visit: https://cqrcengage.com/alari/?0
Chair, Legislative Action Committee