Public librarians to push for boost in state funding

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Northeast Mississippi public librarians will join colleagues from throughout the state at the Capitol today to lobby for more funding.
In an event called “Pie Day,” the group will serve legislators slices of homemade pecan pie and urge them to give libraries their fair share when dividing up the state budget.
“We just want to make sure legislators remember libraries when making these budget decisions and that they understand the roles libraries are playing in these economic times and the difference they’re making in the communities,” said Sharman B. Smith, executive director of the Mississippi Library Commission.
The effort comes on the heels of repeated budget cuts that have forced libraries to reduce staffing and withhold purchases. The monetary woes coincide with record library usage.
Never before have so many people frequented public libraries. Free access to books, DVDs, computers and the Internet allows them to save money during times of economic hardship.
Among Northeast Mississippi officials to attend are Lee-Itawamba Library System Director Jan Willis, Northeast Regional Library System Director William McMullin and Dixie Regional Library System Director Judy McNeece.
Those three systems alone have lost a combined $50,000 in state funds this current fiscal year, which began in July.
“I know it doesn’t sound like a lot when you hear about all the other budget cuts,” McNeece said. “But we still want to let them know that there are real people these cuts are affecting who are their constituents.”
The state this year had budgeted $5.9 million for libraries through the personnel-incentive grant program. The program provides money to Mississippi’s public library systems, allowing them to offset staff salaries. Half of the money is distributed by the county, the other half by per-capita population counts.
Two cuts already have reduced the $5.9 million budgeted for the program in FY10, which began in July. It now stands at $5.3 million.
Library officials have been told by state leaders to brace for another cut before the fiscal year ends June 30.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.