Tough times get tougher for libraries

TUPELO – Already underfunded by the state, public libraries now face more bad news, this time from the local governments that typically supply their budgetary bread and butter.
Counties and cities, which themselves are struggling to make ends meet, can’t afford the additional dollars libraries want to recoup the state funding losses.
And in some cases, their annual allocations could be less than in years past – a further blow to an already dire situation.
“It’s a perfect storm for libraries,” said Sharman B. Smith, executive director of the Mississippi Library Commission. “At the very time where we see usage up, our revenues and our staffing are down.”
Across the state, libraries are coping with the cuts by reducing their materials budgets, forgoing employee raises and implementing hiring freezes.
But Smith said this year’s crunch is just the beginning; it will be worse next year and even worse the year after that.
“At some point, there will be nothing left to cut, and then the public will start to notice,” she said. “And probably the first thing they’ll see is fewer library hours.”
The Lee County Library lost nearly $17,500 in state funding this year compared to last, and it could face an additional $28,300 cut in the coming months.
Library Director Jan Willis has asked both Tupelo and Lee County governments for modest increases to help recoup the cuts. The money would go mostly toward replenishing the materials budget for items like books and DVDs. But it’s unclear he’ll get it.
Willis currently receives $432,480 annually from the city, and he’d like $9,500 more. He gets $429,160 annually from the county, and has requested $12,500 more.
The county also provides funds for telephone service and building insurance.
All Mississippi counties and cities must adopt their Fiscal Year 2011 budgets by Sept. 15, and library directors across the state are making similar requests to their own local governments.
Amid funding woes, public library patronage has skyrocketed. Lee County’s main facility averaged 14,072 monthly visitors in 2004 versus 21,540 a month this year. The monthly check-out rate was 9,248 items six years ago versus 15,013 today.
Last month alone, nearly 8,500 people used the library’s free computers.
“We are in the same situation,” said Union County Library Director Kay Sappington. “Our funding has been cut drastically by the state, and we’re told to expect another 10 percent cut this year and not to expect any more from the county and the city.”
And like Lee County, Union sees increasingly more library patrons as families cut back on books, DVDs and Internet services in the home.
“If we don’t get some extra from somewhere, we’re looking at another $25,000 cut, and I don’t have anywhere to cut it from,” said Judy McNeece, director of the Dixie Regional Library System, serving Calhoun, Chickasaw and Pontotoc counties.
McNeece said she’s expecting flat contributions from Calhoun and Chickasaw. From Pontotoc, she said, she expects even less than she got this year.
“We are planning some kind of a fundraiser,” she said. “We’re going to have to.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz / NEMS Daily Journal