Chapter Report: More Legislative "Hot Topics" in 1999

By Watkins, Christine | American Libraries, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Chapter Report: More Legislative "Hot Topics" in 1999


Watkins, Christine, American Libraries


It comes as no surprise that most states will be asking their legislatures for increased library technology funding in the current sessions, but that's not the only topic on the agenda. In addition to the roundup of core funding requests in last month's "Chapter Report" (Feb., p. 6), reading initiatives, services for the disabled, and such low-tech requests as better - and newer - buildings and library books round out the picture.

A demand for databases

Seeking support for statewide database services is common to the legislative platforms of many chapters. In some cases, planning and start-up funding from previous years is being parlayed into requests for significant, continuing support. In others, databases and other high-tech options are paired with making a case for easier-to-understand basic services. For starters, figuring what these whiz-bang reference tools cost, both to start and maintain, and how much the state might reasonably contribute isn't easy.

The size of the state, extent of the database, criteria for access, and other sources of funding all enter into the equation. David Macksam of the Rhode Island Library Association's Legislative Action Committee reported it is asking for $500,000 to provide statewide licensing of databases for all public, school, and academic libraries in the state. Joe Sabatini, cochair of the New Mexico Library Association's Legislation and Intellectual Freedom Committee, said preliminary estimates call for $2.5 million in its legislative request for full funding of statewide library access to general, scholarly, and professional periodicals and databases.

The Minnesota Library Association (MLA) is requesting $1.8 million for each year of the biennium. "This would be for both K-12 and higher-education libraries to provide access for all Minnesotans to proprietary databases of magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, and reference information," said MLA Executive Director Bill Brady.

The Library of California - a virtual library of database information available to and connecting all types of libraries in the state - was initially funded by the legislature at $5 million, but the total costs will eventually be in the $200-300 million range. "The library community is currently developing administrative regulations and discussing how to use that first $5 million," said California Library Association Legislation Committee Chair Ann Cousineau. "Some of it will be used for planning, but the majority will probably be spent on tangible projects so we can demonstrate effective use of the money to the legislature. The total costs aren't just for licensing and technology, they're for everything - the databases, training, delivery. By spending the first $5 million wisely, we'll be able to make our case for the next level of funding."

Mix and match

The array of factors that contribute to library funding needs - local tax changes, population shifts, the difference between initial and ongoing costs, and the bewildering statistics that show cost savings as the result of expenditures - can be hard to explain to legislators during those fiveminute office visits. Strategies range from seeking smaller initial appropriations during the "get-acquainted" phase and coming back for more once the die is cast, to presenting a pick-and-choose menu that includes something for everyone, from high-tech to low-cost.

Nebraska, for example, is upping the ante from last year's $400,000 appropriation for electronic reference resources for school and public libraries to $5 million in the next biennial budget, primarily intended to support continued statewide access to reference databases.

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Chapter Report: More Legislative "Hot Topics" in 1999
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