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State budget cuts loom over library

Regular readers will know that we normally use this space to promote upcoming library programs or to let patrons know about library services.

But today we need to let you know about a development in Jefferson City that has already impacted our budget this year and has the potential to create revenue shortfalls in future years.

In disputes with the state legislature over how to balance this year’s state budget, Governor Nixon has withheld nearly 6 million in state funds that directly support public libraries. His budget for next year make those cuts permanent. The impact on our library is a loss of about $70,000 from our budget this year. With the resulting additional loss of revenue from state grants and matching federal funds, as well as the loss of broadband discounts that the state has until recently leveraged and subsidized for the benefit of libraries, the likely future impact will be in excess of $120,000, or considerably more, out of our budget each year.

How will we absorb the cuts? The library responded this year by scaling back on the purchase of books and other library materials, reducing the number of magazine subscriptions, and by reducing hours of operation and staff hours at our Genealogy Branch. Even small losses of revenue translate into lower quality library services. Simply put, we don’t have a lot of wiggle room in our budget. Our revenues have been flat or slightly down over the past several years even as the cost of operating eight locations has steadily risen. So to continue absorbing these budget cuts, we know we’ll have to take an increasingly hard look at the parts of our budget that most impact the quality of the library: the books and library materials we buy, the number of hours we’re able to be open, and – what we feel is the library’s most valuable resource – the people who work there.

I’m speaking now to our regular patrons, so I don’t need to convince you of anything. If you go to the library, you know how busy it is:

  • Last year we checked out 560,228 books and other items. That’s 1,534 items every day.
  • 38,326 patrons attended 1,445 programs, everything from storytimes for children to computer workshops for seniors.
  • 2,915 children participated in our Summer Reading Program, a vital literacy program.
  • The library’s computers were used 72,968 times – often by people who were job searching and sending applications; many more were seniors who use the computers to stay in touch with their families, or to get help with filing their taxes.

To summarize: we know the library plays a central role in improving the quality of life for residents. We see it every day.

Missouri has a long tradition of supporting strong public libraries through funding at the state level. We feel a failure to maintain that priority is shortsighted of the governor, even as he restores funding to many other areas  – including restoring large state subsidies for sporting arenas – but not as yet for our libraries.

We have sent a letter to the governor. We have gone to Jefferson City and met with our legislators. We asked our legislators to pressure the governor to release the money being withheld from libraries. And we asked our legislators to restore the state aid for libraries in their version of next year’s budget. We would certainly be glad for any of our patrons to convey the same message to our governor and legislators.

  1. Here is a petition to the governor you can sign now.
  2. Here is a list of our local legislators and information about how you can contact them.
  3. You can also consider attending a rally in support of our libraries taking place on the steps of the Capital in Jefferson City this Wednesday, March 18.

Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or would like more information.

Seth Hershberger, assistant director