Library faces financial crisis
Dwindling funds in recent years, matched with an increase in operating costs, has brought the Union County Library System to a state of near-crisis.
Kay Sappington, director of the library system that includes both the Jennie Stephens Smith Library in New Albany and the Myrtle Library, said the situation has come to the point where it possibly affects library staff and services provided.
“I sent an email to all of the library board members yesterday saying that I could meet payroll this month by putting off paying other bills,” Sappington said. “We’re just trying to survive.”
The main source of trouble, Sappington said, is a decrease in recent years in state funding. The library, like Mississippi’s 49 or so other library systems, receives money from the state that helps pay for both salary supplements for personnel, as well as health and life insurance benefits.
“We used to receive around $60,000 from the state, but the amount’s declined in recent years because of the economic downturn,” Sappington said. “This year, we’re receiving about $52,000. No one’s gotten a raise in three years.”
The library system also receives one mill from the county, or $142,000 and $1,200 per month from the city of New Albany. In addition, it generates about $21,000 in the form of paid fines, donations and other fees, as well as about $1,500 in interest income. For the past two years, the library system also received a Library Services and Technology grant to help fund its e-book program. Between October 2012 and September 2013, in fact, the library’s total income was approximately $286,000
On the other hand, the library’s expenditures during that same time frame, including general operation, purchasing library materials, personnel and special programs, reached over $300,000, leaving a $15,000 deficit.
In order to keep personnel and pay operating costs, Sappington said the only place left to cut has to do with its primary resource – books.
“We started out with a $35,000 book budget this year,” she said. “Now it is down to $11,000.”
In order to help curb the cost of purchasing new books, the library has relied in recent years on borrowing books from other library systems. That borrowing, as well as the addition of an e-book platform two years ago, has also helped with the library’s limited amount of space. But with the state grant that helped pay for the e-books program running out, it may also be cut from the library’s services.
“The platform that we use to allow patrons to download e-books costs about $1,000 a month,” Sappington said. “In addition, the books are very expensive too. A John Grisham novel on e-book may cost us $85. One alternative is letting someone go or dropping the e-book program.”
One program the library offers that Sappington said she would not cut is its genealogy program.
“Ancestry.com is very popular here,” she said of the program, which costs the library $2,700 a month to operate. “We have a lot of people who use it, since we don’t have lists of censuses on microfilm.”
Sappington said the library averages between 175 and 200 patrons a day and has serviced as many as 300 who either borrow books or DVD’s or use its online programs. In recent months, the library has also received foot traffic from visitors using the Tanglefoot Trail.
“We’ve effectively become the trail head since it opened,” she said. “We are the place they come to get directions, maps and to use our restrooms. It brings extra business.”
Another concern for the library lies in the limited space of its meeting room. Attendance for summer reading program, held in the meeting room, is normally limited, due to the size of the room.
Sappington said supervisors told her original plans when the library opened in 1984 were to eventually build a second story on the building, but so far nothing has progressed on that front.
The library, she said, cannot continue much longer to meet the community’s needs in its current state of affairs.
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