Economic Crisis Hits Libraries Nationwide

American Libraries, June-July 2008 | Go to article overview
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Economic Crisis Hits Libraries Nationwide

Funding crises in municipalities of all sizes from coast to coast are raising the prospect of cutbacks in public library services, ranging from staff layoffs to branch closings. Although many of the cuts are still in the proposal stage, others have already been enacted.

Some of the nation's largest systems are facing the curtailment of weekend hours: A proposal by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to balance the city's bud- get would close libraries on Sunday, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2009 budget would eliminate six-day-a-week service.

However, the cuts that are being considered for other systems are far more extensive. The four-year-old library in Clearwater, Florida, could close on weekends and most evenings if deep reductions to the system's budget are approved. And it's not the only one pondering cutbacks, the St. Petersburg Times reported May 11. In January, Florida voters amended the state constitution to cut property taxes by some $9.3 billion over five years (AL, Mar., p. 20). The recent economic nosedive reduced property values, causing further government revenue shortfalls. Municipalities around the state are cutting their budgets, and many are slashing funding for recreation, parks, and libraries in order to maintain crucial services such as police and firefighting.

At the brink in Bridegeport

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, Mayor Bill Finch proposed a $1.1-million cut in next year's funding for the Bridgeport Public Library. The 25% reduction in the operating budget would have required laying off one-third of the staff and the closing of branches.

"We are getting back to basics: police, fire, and education. We will not try to be all things to all people. Libraries are not essential services. We tax poor and working-class people to pay for things that the state and federal government should pay for," Finch said in the April 2 Bridgeport Connecticut Post.

At an April 11 meeting of the city council's Budget and Appropriations Committee, City Librarian Scott Hughes said the cuts would " essentially shut all four branches." He added that the current economic picture makes the timing of the cuts particularly bad, noting that "It's a national trend people use the library more during hard times. Cutting the funding does not diminish the community's need to use the library," the Post reported April 12.

After holding departmental hearings on the budget, as well as one public hearing that Hughes said drew "a tremendous amount of public comment" in support of the library, the city council restored $900,000 of the funding cut by the mayor at its May 12 meeting. Hughes told American Libraries that would allow branch closings to be averted, although the library would still have to lay off some staff and reduce hours. " I'm still short in terms of being able to offer the quality of service we need to provide," he lamented.

Layoffs in Stanislaus

"In our area [of California], Central Valley, I think we lead the nation in foreclosures. It's just snowballing here," Stanislaus County Library spokesperson Susan Lilly told AL as she confirmed press reports that officials there had issued layoff notices to 94 of the system's 138 part-time staff that are effective June 30, just before the FY2008--09 budget year begins. "It's very sad news," she said, explaining that the cuts were prompted by projections of drastically reduced revenue from both a dedicated county sales tax and state aid. "This is a very, very sad thing for us to do," agreed Stanislaus County Librarian Vanessa Czopek, noting in the May 2 Modesto Bee, "A lot of us will be pitching in with duties we don't normally do"--in her case, helping to shelve books.

Noting that the library "took some budget cuts at midyear for FY2007-08," including the reduction of the book budget by 10%, Lilly told AL that "it was clear we had to make some bigger cuts.

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