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Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - Page updated at 05:30 p.m.

Former Seattle librarian says federal cuts to hit museums, libraries

By Jack Broom
Seattle Times staff reporter

Innovative programs to help schoolchildren, job-seekers and underserved communities, through libraries and museums, will be likely casualties of the federal budget crisis, the head of a federal grant-making agency said in Seattle on Monday.

“There are a lot of good ideas we simply won’t be able to fund” — including some that would have paid dividends for decades, said Susan Hildreth, the former Seattle city librarian who is now director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

The federal sequester, she said, will mean a 5 percent cut in the $232 million her agency hoped to allocate this year to libraries and museums across the country. “The less funding we have, the less innovation we’ll have,” Hildreth said.

Hildreth was in Seattle to take part in a StoryCorps documentary about the Pacific Science Center, one of 10 U.S. libraries and museums to receive the 2012 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, awarded at the White House in November.

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit agency that since 2003 has preserved audio stories of the American experience in 45,000 interviews with nearly 90,000 participants.

StoryCorps facilitators, in Seattle through Wednesday, will record about 18  40-minute conversations, each between two people connected with the science center.

A small number of StoryCorps presentations air each Friday on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” show, heard locally on KUOW and KPLU.

All are preserved in the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, available for researchers. Each segment is edited to three to five minutes.

Hildreth said the new round of budget cuts follows several years of cutbacks through the recession.

As government purse strings tighten, Hildreth said, organizations with the best chance of landing government aid are those that show they are addressing key community needs and concerns.

She puts the Pacific Science Center in that camp.

Its national award stemmed from pioneering a variety of science-center programs, including efforts to bring traveling science classes to remote schools, to tap the expertise of the Seattle scientific community and to encourage students in low-income areas to consider — and prepare for — potential careers in science.

Each of the 10 medal-winning institutions will be the subject of a StoryCorps presentation.

They range from big-city organizations such as the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago to the community library of Naturita, Colo., a town of about 500.

Hildreth, Seattle’s city librarian from 2009 to 2011, participated in a StoryCorps session with the science center’s president and CEO, Bryce Seidl.

Chris Ackerley, a longtime board member of the science center, will be in a StoryCorps session. He co-chairs the center’s $50 million fundraising campaign, which began in late 2010 and has raised nearly $30 million

Another science-center dimension will be conveyed by Andrea Rose Nichols, 22, who started as a volunteer and now leads demonstrations, sometimes with snakes and other reptiles.

Hildreth is in a four-year term as director of the IMLS.

From 2001 through 2011, the agency channeled more than $14.4 million in federal funds to Seattle-area organizations. That includes grants for which libraries and museums submitted competitive proposals, and other funds distributed through each state’s library based on the state’s population.

Grants ranged from a few thousand dollars, such as a $3,000 canvas cover for a 1914-vintage sailboat at the Center for Wooden Boats, to six-digit projects, such as a $635,000 grant to the University of Washington to look at testing the effectiveness of early-literacy programs.

Jack Broom: jbroom@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2222

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