Itawamba library faces tough budget decisions

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

FULTON – Much like the protagonist of a nail-biting thriller, the Itawamba County Pratt Memorial Library is facing perilous odds.
Appearing before the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors last week, library head Cindy Jamerson said the county’s library is off to a bad start this year, and the journey ahead doesn’t appear to be any easier.
“We’re actually starting our budget $10,800.28 less than we did last year because of all the budget cuts we’ve received from the state,” Jamerson explained. “If we don’t get an increase, if we at least get what we got last year, we can survive, but we are going to have services cut.”
As if that weren’t bad enough news for the agency, the state has requested Mississippi libraries set aside an additional 8 percent of their funds in anticipation for future cuts. According to Jamerson, those additional cuts are digging into the bone itself.
“We have cut everywhere that we can,” Jamerson said, offering, as an example, the complete removal of the library’s equipment upkeep fund. “If one of our computers breaks down we simply won’t have the money to buy another computer.”
In order to cut the requested 8 percent, Jamerson said she had to shave $3,801 off the library’s anticipated book fund, leaving only an estimated $1,257 for book purchases throughout the year.
Prior to recent budget cuts, Jamerson said, the library would spend between $8,000 and $12,000 on new books each year.
“If we don’t receive the 8 percent budget cuts, then of course that money would go back into the book fund, which would be wonderful,” Jamerson said, though she wasn’t optimistic about the chances of that happening.
“We are actually anticipating cuts greater than 8 percent,” she said.
Currently, the library orders books from a “standing authors” list … essentially bestsellers and books by the library’s most often requested and distributed authors. Although the library gets a small discount on book purchases, she said the typical cost of a new, hardback edition of a book runs between $25 and $30.
Any more cuts, she said, and even those books will have to go. She said they try to do the best they can with what’s been given, but it’s been difficult.
“We don’t buy any paperback books anymore; we’ve had to do away with that,” she said, adding that the library still receives some donations of paperbacks, which helps tremendously.

Dire straits
Jamerson asked the board to consider giving the library a slight increase in funding this year. The library is funded through several sources, including the county, the city of Fulton and the state of Mississippi. Typically, Jamerson asks for a 2 percent increase from both the county and city each year.
This year, she said, the library needs any additional funds it can get.
“Any money that we do get is strictly going toward our materials budget and nothing else,” she said.
Board members seemed genuinely concerned with the library’s plight and agreed to take the information they were given under consideration while budgeting for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
Of course, as they say, things are tough all over. Jamerson said she knows this but laments it all the same.
“It’s not just us; it’s every state agency,” she said. “But, we’ve been hit especially hard.”
The library is open four days a week, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. It operates with four full-time employees, including Jamerson. With the library’s budget stripped as it is, Jamerson said jobs may be the next to go.
“If we get any more cuts and don’t get any additional funds, we are looking at cutting hours.”
Ironically, although the library’s funds are lower than they’ve ever been, attendance is actually up. Way up.
According to Jamerson, the library has received more than 18,543 visits so far this year, 569 of which have been from new patrons. In particular, the library’s computers have been receiving a large number of users.
“Our biggest increase comes from people who have lost their jobs,” Jamerson said. “People are having to come in and fill out job applications online.”
Jamerson said she believes a majority of working people do not have working computers or access to the Internet in their homes.
The library has six public, Internet accessible computers, all of which are occupied most of the day.
“People are waiting for us every morning so they can put applications in,” Jamerson said.

Contact Adam Armour at (662) 862-3141 or adam.armour@itawamba360.com.