Regional libraries, among Mississippi’s most successful government-funded enterprises, expect financial stress to intensify as their tax-generated revenue sources have more demands placed on them by competing items in state, county and municipal budgets.
In the private sector when business booms financial concerns usually diminish, but in the case of libraries serving more patrons than ever, in the middle of a lingering recession, the worries mount.
In the case of the Lee County Library state funding has shrunk by $17,500 in the 2011 fiscal year, and more reductions are likely this year and in coming fiscal years.
The libraries in other Northeast Mississippi counties face the same issues, and all seem headed toward an inevitable point of painful service reductions forced by financial cutbacks.
Those cuts would not be offset by the $9,500 in additional funding sought from the city of Tupelo in its 2011 budget, and $12,500 more from Lee County through the Board of Supervisors. The city and county budget cycles begin Oct. 1 and budgets must be approved by Sept. 15.
The requests for city and county increases seem reasonable given the increased use of the library – from 14,000 people per month in 2004 to 21,540 per month his year. The monthly check-out rate has risen from 9,240 in 2004 to 15,013 today.
Still, as Lee County Director Jan Willis notes, it is unfair for the state to reduce funding and expect counties, equally strapped for funds, to take up the slack.
It is more realistic, however, to ask the governing boards of the cities and counties most affected by libraries’ services to try and meet the need.
Willis also said the library has reduced its materials and books budget from a peak of $107,000 in 2006 to $72,000 this year – an intentional decision to avoid reducing staff who help meet the service requests of the record numbers of users.
Willis noted the irony that the funding cuts at some point stand to impact the hundreds of people who use the library’s free computers and its free Wi-Fi capacity to search for job openings and fill out online job applications.
The library, Willis said, also is filled after school hours with Tupelo students using their school-issued Macbooks for assignments – many because they don’t have Internet access in their homes.
Libraries, rather than becoming obsolete as many people predicted a few years ago, have proven their adaptability and productive usefulness in the age of technology-driven information.
NEMS Daily Journal