Before reading further, get out your calendar and mark April 30-May 1, 2001, for the National Library Legislative Day briefing and VLA Luncheon next year. The briefings by members of the ALA Washington Office and Congressional experts are superb and enable you to converse easily with your Congressman and his or her legislative assistants at the luncheon on the following day.
One highlight of this year's briefing day was a talk by former Congressional Legislative Assistant Stephanie Vance, author of Government By The People: How to Communicate with Congress and principal of AdVanced Consulting. Ms. Vance said we should always ask for something. Asking requires your Congressman to make a decision. She told of one Congressman's likening being in Congress to being in a wind tunnel. So much is happening so much of the time that the only way to deal with the job is to reach out and grab things passing by in the wind. When we ask a Congressman (or a legislative assistant) for something, we stop them long enough for them to pay attention and learn something of our needs. What do we ask for?
o Ask them to write an article, an opinion piece. (You can even write it for them and ask them to review it and sign it.) This article can be published in your library newsletter.
o Ask them to place a statement in the Congressional Record, perhaps congratulating the library on its anniversary.
o Can they visit your library, come to some event, perhaps come and read a story during story time at the library?
o Can they write an opinion/editorial piece for your local newspaper?
Finally, always write thank you notes. Believe it or not, very few people ever thank the Congressmen or legislative assistants for the time they take to meet with or respond to constituents' letters. You will be remembered if you thank them!
According to Stephanie Vance, the context in which Congress is operating this year has four major elements: the "magic six seats," the presidential campaign, the budget/appropriations cycle, and economic concerns, especially the volatility of the stock market. The "magic six seats" are the number of seats that Democrats need to pick up, or that Republicans need to protect, to control Congress after this fall's elections. The budget/appropriations cycle has begun; in fact, the first hearings were held during the May 1-2 National Library Legislative Days. The cycle usually runs through October 1, but this year it is expected to stop in September as electioneering begins in earnest. Economic concerns are important because everyone knows that the economic engine is something of a golden goose. It's in the interest of all incumbents to stall any economic downturn, no matter how inevitable one may be.
According to Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers, the issue before Congress is how to maintain fiscal discipline in times of seeming plenty. 1 He states that our current era of prosperity began with the bipartisan decision in 1993 to implement fiscal restraint. We have achieved budget surpluses in recent years because of that decision. But still, many in Congress would agree that the load of federal debt created during the era of deficit spending in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s drags the economy and threatens future prosperity. Legislators are faced anew with the decision of whether to pay down the federal debt. The alternative is to use all the surplus of the current year for mandated programs like Social Security and for discretionary spending to enhance military and domestic programs.
The Library Issues
Four major library issues face Congress this year:
- Database protection legislation.
- The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is up for reauthorization this year. In the process, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Major Owens (D-NY) continue to press for restoration of funding directed to resources for school libraries (S. 1262 and H.R. 3008).
- Finally, just like at the state level, we continue to press Congress to leave Internet access management to local decision-makers. Legislation which would mandate filtering comes forward regularly; the better approach is the option for either filters or the Internet access policies of Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) (S. 1545).
The remainder of this article provides details on appropriations and database protection bills. In the next issue of Virginia Libraries, ESEA reauthorization and Internet access will be reviewed.
The Federal Budget: Appropriations
Appropriations, as always, are of great concern. Just as local and state budgets are critical to the healthy functioning of libraries, federal budgets affect us in many ways. The deadline for adoption of the federal budget is October 1, 2000. Much of the budget wrangling occurs along party lines and of course the parties are almost evenly split. Furthermore, elections this year will be hard fought as each party tries to take control. Because of these dynamics, the possibility looms that no budget will even be adopted this year. In such a case, appropriations would be funded through a continuing resolution, most likely meaning that funding would continue at this year's levels.
In the meantime, the President has submitted his budget and Congress is now wrestling over what gets added and what gets subtracted. For libraries, an area of great concern is reduced funding for library programs. The Federal Depository Library Program, the Government Printing Office, and the Library of Congress are threatened with substantial budget cuts this year. In some of the first budget hearings of the spring, deep and serious budget cuts are being proposed for these library programs in the departments of Labor and Health & Human Services. Another twenty or thirty library programs receive funding through the Higher Education Act (HEA), the Reading Excellence Act, and others. Our message to Congress is to please fund these important services, and to commit to $173 million for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and $400 million for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Database Protection Legislation
Database protection legislation is again before Congress. Virginia's own Tom Bliley (R-7 th ) is the sponsor of H.R. 1858, the bill out of the Commerce Committee which protects database creators from out-and-out piracy of their databases. This bill is well-focused on piracy, as compared with the more dangerous Judiciary Committee's H.R. 354, which brings under protection many aspects of databases never previously protected under copyright law.
Historically, copyright issues have pitted publishers against librarians. Attorney Bill Hannay, in a program last summer at the American Library Association's annual conference, posited the ideal worlds of publishers and librarians. In the publishers' ideal world, users of information would pay every time they use the information. Thus, the publisher would receive a royalty every time a book is taken from the shelf for perusal or checkout. For librarians, the ideal world is one in which all information is free. Access to every book, every article, every song, etc. is available to each and every customer within their library's community. Obviously, accommodations have always been made in the real world we all live in.
Along comes the world of digital information. Publishers are scared to death that the ease of copying their digital information will mean that the market for their intellectual property will be exactly one copy: the one which is disseminated and then copied and sent free to anyone in the world who wants it. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 included additional protection for databases that publishers felt was necessary. Among other things, the DMCA prohibits the circumventing of any technological copyright protection measure. The library community believes sufficient protection was already available for publishers.
In this context comes a draconian protection measure, namely the Judiciary Committee's H.R. 354, the "Collections of Information Antipiracy Act." Ostensibly meant to protect databases against piracy, this bill goes far beyond antipiracy to undermine fair use provisions of copyright law. In an unprecedented manner, H.R. 354 would protect facts rather than expression. It also allows unprecedented control over "downstream, transformative" uses of facts and even government-produced data contained in databases. Its basic approach is to prohibit many uses of database information and then to make vague exceptions for research and other activities.
The better bill, H.R. 1858, the "Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act," narrowly focuses its prohibitions on the actual piracy of databases. This bill would more effectively promote the progress of science, education, and research. Violations of H.R. 1858 would be subject to civil penalties, whereas violations of H.R. 354 would be subject to criminal penalties. 2
As of spring, 2000, it appears there may be room for compromise by using the narrow prohibitions of H.R. 1858 while making violations subject to criminal penalties. However, given its controversial nature, there may simply be inaction on this bill. The National Association of Realtors, who support H.R. 354, planned a heavy lobbying effort two weeks after National Library Legislative Day. We believe and hope that our smaller numbers and lower levels of financial support for candidates will be offset by the justness and rightness of our message, which is one of service in the public interest.
1. "Fiscal Discipline," National Press- Club Live Webcast With Lawrence Summers May 3, 2000, 1 p.m. ET. Available at http://www.npr.org/programs/npc/000503.lsummers.html .
2. "Issue Brief: Database Protection Legislation," American Library Association Washington Office, May 2000. Available at http://www.ala.org/washoff/database.html , click "Database Protection Legislation" for PDF file.