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Plan To Revamp Library Program Unveiled

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WASHINGTON--The Education Department last week unveiled a proposal that would overhaul its library-services program by cutting the budget almost in half and shifting funding priority to access for the disadvantaged and the handicapped, interlibrary cooperation, and research.

"There is a legitimate federal role in libraries, but the current legislation is obsolete, excessively complicated, restrictive, and antiquated,'' Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said at a news briefing.

The department's fiscal 1989 budget request includes $76 million for the library programs, which it had proposed to eliminate in previous budgets. The Congress appropriated $135.1 million for 1988.

Department officials said the program had served its original purpose: to increase the number and quality of libraries so that virtually all Americans have access to adequate library services. If the program is to continue, they said, it should be targeted to meet specific needs.

The proposed legislation contains three parts:

  • Services to economically disadvantaged or handicapped individuals. This title, which would be authorized at $45 million the first year, would support activities such as adult basic education, literacy and English instruction, summer reading and after-school programs, specialized staff training, and the purchase of materials or renovation of facilities for the handicapped.

No funds could be used for new construction, and federal funding would be limited to five years. The funds would be distributed through formula grants to the states.

  • Resource-sharing. This title would provide $20 million to states to aid in developing library networks; the department would distribute another $10 million to interstate projects. The funds would support the acquisition of computer facilities, staff training, cataloging costs, and, in some cases, the restoration or acquisition of rare books.
  • Research and assessment. The department would be authorized to spend $1 million on research on the condition and improvement of libraries.

Current law supports a longer list of programs: a general library-aid program that received $78.9 million in 1988; a library-construction program, funded at $22.6 million; an $18.6-million interlibrary cooperation program; and a $4.7-million literacy initiative.

Many activities currently supported would also be permitted under the department's plan, officials stressed.

Although the library programs are not due for reauthorization until next year, Mr. Finn said he would like to see the proposed legislation enacted in the next few months, in time to make fiscal 1989 appropriations based on it.

He characterized library organizations' reaction to the proposal as "interested, not jubilant or hostile, but interested.''--JM

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