Long-term pain persists, with minimal relief
Public libraries nationwide are straining from the effect of recurrent annual cuts in state funding, which offset the increases in fewer than a handful of states in fiscal 2011. Over the past four years, more than half the states have reported a decrease in funding, with cumulative cuts averaging greater than 10 percent.
These findings are compiled from survey responses of chief officers of state library agencies for fiscal 2008 through 2011 for the “ Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study,”conducted annually by the ALA Office for Research & Statistics and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the ALA.
For the 2011 report, chief officers in 45 of 50 states and the District of Columbia responded to the online survey. Preliminary findings include:
- Nineteen states reported cuts in state funding for public libraries from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2011. Of these, more than half indicated that the cuts were greater than 10 percent.
- Fourteen states reported there had been no change from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2011.
- Four states reported an increase in funding, but did so with caveats. In two cases, one-time supplemental funding offset state cuts. In another, the increased funding was not enough to make up for cuts in fiscal 2010, resulting in an overall decrease in funding since fiscal 2009.
- Seven states and the District of Columbia do not provide state funding.
The study also found that cuts at the state level were often compounded by cuts at the local level. When considering current local funding to public libraries, slightly more states (19 compared with 17) reported that local funding for public libraries probably decreased for a majority of libraries in the state in fiscal 2011 compared with fiscal 2010.
The annual study’s questionnaire asked again about the number of libraries that were closed as a result of funding cuts. More states in fiscal 2011 (17, compared with 13 the previous year) reported they were aware of public library closures in their states in the past 12 months. Most states reported fewer than two library outlets closed, although Pennsylvania and New Jersey reported between five and 10 libraries closed.
To meet ever-increasing demands on Internet access and speed, libraries looked to federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) funding. Thirty-six states (78 percent of respondents) reported that they applied (solely or in partnership with others) for funding. The majority of states applied for BTOP Public Computer Center funding (89 percent), followed by BIP/BTOP Infrastructure (25 percent) and BTOP Sustainable Adoption (25 percent) funding. Of those that applied, 27 states (75 percent) reported they were successful in securing funding.
Library funding caught up in federal budget showdown
Even as 2010 began, libraries found themselves caught in a very partisan fiscal crossfire at the federal level, as House Republicans, heavily influenced by a freshman class that is bent on deficit reduction, took a knife to the current budget.
President Obama’s budget request for fiscal 2011 called for a freeze on federal library funding under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), the primary source of federal funding for libraries. He also consolidated the funds for Improving Literacy Through School Libraries, which essentially would eliminate them.
But Congress did not pass any appropriation bills, and the government remained functioning under a series of continuing resolutions.
Some state and local budget-cutters also see libraries as “easy targets”
Throughout 2010 and into 2011, the media were filled with reports of cuts and cutbacks, occasional success stories and more evidence that some revenue-strapped state and local governments saw libraries as relatively easy targets for budget cuts. U.S. mayors reported in November that hours, staff or services at local libraries was the No. 2 budget area that had already come under the budget-reduction knife, according to a report carried on PRNewswire. The main target was maintenance and services at parks and gardens (41 percent), with local libraries close behind, at 39 percent.
As author Scott Turow commented in the Huffington Post, “Libraries seem to be losing out in the funding battles, due, in part, to the mistaken belief that they are somehow anachronistic in an age when so many Americans have instant computer access to information through the Internet. This . . . threatens to destroy a network of public assets that remains critical in our country.
“Millions of Americans simply cannot afford to replace what libraries have traditionally offered for free –– access to books, computers and research assistance. Ironically, the importance of these services is even greater in a time of economic uncertainty.”
Large libraries –– those with service populations of more than 1 million –– took the biggest hit, according to a survey by Library Journal , with 86 percent reporting budget cuts and 93 percent reporting staff reductions. Many also reported curtailed service hours. Among all respondents, 72 percent said their budget had been cut, and 43 percent reported staff cuts.
Still, 62 percent of respondents in the Library Journal survey expressed optimism about the future and only 18 percent pessimism. (The rest were neutral.) And the optimists seem to have been backed up by a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which concluded that tax revenues were projected to increase in 40 states in fiscal 2011. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington predicted increases of more than 10 percent, 14 other states expected revenues to increase 5-10 percent, and 23 states projected revenue growth of 1-5 percent. Of the 47 states that responded to the survey, only Alaska expected tax revenues to fall –– by 6 percent, due to a decline in oil prices.
Awaiting all libraries, however, is the phasing out of federal stimulus funds, which the National Association of State Budget Officers called the “cliff of 2012.”
A year of scary headlines . . .
Libraries made headlines throughout the past year, and with few exceptions they were not the kind of headlines that people enjoy reading:
- “Evanston (Ill.) branches to close for good” (February 2010).
- “ Nation’s libraries get more use, less funding” (February).
- “ Library systems are trimming costs to stay afloat” (February).
- “ [New York Public] Library Faces Harshest Budget Cut in History” (February).
- “ Boston trustees approve closure of four branches” (April).
- “ In Midnight Deal, Florida Legislature Reprieves Public Library Funding” (April).
- “ Hundreds of N.J. librarians protest $10.4M proposed budget cuts” (May).
- “ Tacoma board votes to close 2 small libraries, cut hours at main library” (December).
- “ Detroit Faces Unprecedented Fiscal Crisis; Workforce Reduction Inevitable.” (January 2011)
The real estate bust affected many libraries because they depend on revenue that is based on property taxes.
In Chula Vista, California, a community with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, the public library is experiencing staggering funding cuts. Over the past two years, the library budget has been reduced by 40 percent, and by 60 percent over four years. The library’s book budget has been cut 80 percent, and over the past four years the staff has been reduced to 20 people –– from 71.
Another example: the County of Los Angeles Public Library system, which serves 3.7 million people and faces a structural deficit of $22 million a year for the next decade. Property-tax collections in southern California shrank 3.2 percent in fiscal 2010, with a 4.4 percent decline forecast for FY11.
Budget troubles occasionally lead to radical –– and controversial –– action; for example, Santa Clarita withdrew from the Los Angeles County system in October to sign a contract with Library Systems & Services LLC, a private company that promises to run libraries for less money. The move created national controversy and drew criticism from many, including ALA President Roberta Stevens (see Public Libraries section).
But other types of state and local government revenue loss can affect library budgets, too. Illinois is awash in red ink, and the state’s nine regional library systems, which provide the integrated library system, interlibrary loan, and delivery service for all public libraries in the state, were reeling during the financial crisis. The North Suburban Library System (NSLS) in Wheeling, Ill., was forced to cut back its staff and services in May because of continued delays in state funding. “Many NSLS staffers will be laid off,” said Executive Director Sarah Ann Long. “I will be one of the people leaving.” Only in December did the state provide the full funding for fiscal 2010, which ended June 30.
Voters entrust libraries with their tax dollars
“Amid a bitter political climate, punctuated by the rise of a virulent anti-tax group, voters overwhelmingly entrusted their libraries with their tax dollars in referenda held between December 1, 2009, and November 30, 2010,” reported Library Journal. “ In addition, “Operating revenue measures passed at a spectacular rate of 87%—up slightly from last year’s 84% and continuing a ten-year upswing. Building referenda held steady, with 55% of measures passing, similar to the 2009 figure, but the average size of the projects, $9,037,308, rose measurably from last year’s average of $4,102,000.”
- In Ohio, 30 of 38 local library ballot issues passed. “Ecstatic today since our additional continuous levy (one mill) passed . . . and by 52.82 percent!” Therese Feicht, assistant director of the Geauga County (Ohio) Public Library, wrote to Library Journal. “We can restore cuts, plan, and build the library our community wants going forward.” Still, the Ohio Library Council noted that many of the winning levies “will generate only enough funds to replace the 31 percent in state funding lost in the latest round of state funding reductions.”
- Voters in California and Colorado handed resounding defeats to ballot measures that would have sharply cut library budgets in those states.
- A 53 percent “yes” vote for Hood River County (Ore.) Library enabled it to reopen after lack of funds forced its closure July 1, 2010. The down side was that the library will have to operate from a much lower tax rate and will have to make up the difference with fundraising and volunteers.
- Some 70 percent of Colorado voters dealt a decisive blow to three anti-tax measures that the Colorado Association of Libraries and other for- and nonprofits had opposed. The initiatives would have rolled back local millages despite community sentiment about and control of funding libraries and schools.
- The Indianapolis–Marion County (Ind.) Public Library announced Nov. 4 that 37 positions would be eliminated through layoffs, part of efforts to close an anticipated $4-million budget shortfall in the year ahead. The library said the cuts would apply across the management, support and public service staffs.
- The Troy (Mich.) Public Library lost a 10-year millage vote for the second time in less than a year and its three-branch system is scheduled to close June 30. Director Cathleen Russ noted wryly that “Public libraries are not sacred cows any more.” On the other hand, setbacks in Troy and in neighboring Bloomfield Township seemed to be the exceptions statewide: 10 other library millages in Michigan passed. Michigan’s 103 public libraries have been fighting to get back $3.2 million in state aid that they were entitled to under state law. (Troy update: On Feb. 21, Mayor Louise Schilling and City Council members turned down discussing a resolution that cited $1.7 million in unused expenditures the city could use to operate the library. The council also ignored another option that would have raised a 1-mill tax solely to keep the library open.)
- Illinois voters showed little appetite for local library funding referenda, passing only four of the 10 measures on the ballot.
“We are in the infamous ‘interesting times,” Greg Mullen of Santa Monica (Calif.) Public Library, wrote in response to the Library Journal survey. “It is the evolution of library services and library resources that will make the years ahead challenging and exciting.”
“You want to WHAT?”
In an ironic twist, some public library systems found themselves in role-reversing showdowns with municipal officials. The public libraries in Trenton, N.J., and Wheaton, Ill., for example, were forced to fight in favor of sharply reduced services in order to balance their reduced budgets while city leaders ordered the libraries to maintain the status quo.
Annual survey shows salary increases at public and academic libraries
In what seemed an anomaly to many in the library community, the 2010 edition of the “ ALA-APA Salary Survey: Librarian –– Public and Academic” revealed average increases across all library position types, ranging from 2 percent for managers of support staff to 13 percent for directors of public and academic libraries.
The 2010 survey was based on data from more than 580 library directors and human resources staff, who reported more than 11,000 salaries.
In contrast to 2009’s mean and median decrease of about 1 percent from the previous year, analysis of 2010 data for librarians with ALA-accredited master’s degrees showed a 3 percent mean increase, from $58,860 in 2009 to $60,734, and a 2 percent median increase, from $54,500 in 2009 to $55,883. Salaries ranged from $22,000 (ALA minimum) to $302,500.
The ALA-APA recommends a minimum of $42,181 for librarians and $13.52/hour for support staff, based on resolutions passed in 2007 and 2008. Based on the survey results, it appears that most full-time librarians are earning at least that amount, according to the ALA-APA. Although the lowest actual salary reported was $22,000, beginning librarians earned an average of $48,317, a 4.6 percent overall increase from 2009, with beginning public librarians averaging $48,749 (5.9 percent more than in 2009) and academics $47,000 (1.2 percent more than in 2009).
The posting of the ALA-APA press release drew a number of sharp responses –– all of them anonymous –– that cited individual cases and questioned the overall accuracy of the survey results. Jenifer Grady, director of the ALA-APA, responded that the survey has used a similar methodology since 1982: “Taking a representative sample of small through very large public (we added very small in 2005) and 2-year, 4-year and university libraries” and asking for actual salaries for every librarian in six positions. “The averages, medians and ranges are based on those actual salaries through February 2010,” she said.