Itawamba County library head concerned about potential cuts

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Itawamba County’s library is facing a six percent trim to a budget that, according to its head librarian, is already skin and bones.

According to Jeffrey Martin, head librarian of the Itawamba County Pratt Memorial Library, the proposed funding cuts to Mississippi’s public libraries — a reduction of about 15 percent — could result in a significant cut to materials, hours or staffing to what he already called a “bare bones” operation.

Gov. Phil Bryant’s released his proposed budget in early February and featured more than $26 million in cuts from last year’s budget. The Mississippi Library Commission, which helps fund the state’s public libraries, is among those agencies facing the highest proposed cuts.

According to Martin, if passed, the cuts would result in a loss of about $11,250 of the local library’s $201,000 budget, once they trickled down.

“It might not sound like a lot of money, but we’re certainly not a million dollar industry here,” Martin said of the local library. “That kind of cut hurts.”

The library’s annual budget is spent on staff salaries, utilities to keep the building open, Internet connection, the cataloguing and operating systems, auditors and materials. Martin said most of the funds for these areas can’t be easily cut.

“There are certainly things we’ll have to look at: Utilities, which means being closed more, which is not a good option; staff, which you don’t want to make any cuts there; and materials, which you don’t want to do either,” Martin said.

“We’re pretty bare bones as it is,” Martin added, noting that the library has already faced several cuts within the last five years.

The local library, which is part of the Lee-Itawamba Library System that also includes the Lee County Library in Tupelo, receives its funding from three primary sources: The state of Mississippi, Itawamba County and the city of Fulton. Of these three, only the county and city funding is allowed to be used to purchase books, DVDs, computer equipment and building repairs. The usage of state funding is limited to employees’ salaries and insurance.

Although the funds provided on the local level have remained strong, Martin said the ongoing cuts at the state level have taken their toll.

“The city and the county have been good to us, as far as funding,” he said, adding that tough economic conditions means there’s little money to go around. “I don’t think they’d suddenly be able to be Superman and swoop in to save the day by picking up that slack in our budget.”

As for what the cuts will mean specifically for Itawamba’s library, Martin’s not sure. He said the proposed cuts would take about 80 percent of the library’s materials budget and with a staff of only three people, there’s not a lot of wiggle room available. The loss would likely have to recovered in the number of hours the library remains open to the public.

“I don’t know what that would mean for us,” Martin said. “Would we still be able to get all of the services? I really don’t know. I feel like we would certainly have to do some restructuring.”

Compounding the issue is that library attendance has either increased or remained steady during the last few years. As the economy struggles to recover from the nationwide recession, more and more people are turning to the library to use free services like public access to the Internet.

Last year, the Itawamba County Pratt Memorial Library had a total of 14,874 visits, according to the Lee-Itawamba Library System’s annual report. Of these, more than 3,770 people used the library’s 10 public access computers and checked out a total 28,239 books.

According to Martin, many of the library’s regular patrons have expressed concerns about the future of the library in light of the proposed budget cuts.

“On Monday, I had at least two or three people ask me about it directly,” he said. “People are legitimately concerned about it.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com