Smallest, largest libraries in U.S. see largest funding cuts

Contact: Larra Clark
ALA Media Relations
312-280-5043
For Immediate Release
March 22, 2006

Smallest, largest libraries in U.S. see largest funding cuts

(BOSTON) Libraries serving more than 500,000 or fewer than 25,000 people saw the greatest midyear funding cuts, according to a new national study from the American Library Association (ALA). The study also found that libraries in the West and Midwest sustained larger cuts than their counterparts in the South and East.

The study, begun in response to threatened midyear library closures in Salinas, Calif., and Buffalo, N.Y., is the first national look at midyear changes in public library budgets. Responses came from a nationally representative sample of U.S. public libraries. The questionnaire had a 24 percent response rate and encouraged respondents to provide comments, as well as data. The study was released at the Public Library Association National Conference (March 21-25) in Boston.

Key findings include:

  • Almost 17 percent of libraries indicated they received midyear cuts, with most of the responses reporting cuts between 1 to 2 percent and 11 percent or higher. Forty-eight percent of small public libraries in the West and Midwest saw midyear decreases in FY2003; almost 36 percent were cut in FY2004; and 34.5 percent were cut in FY2005.

  • 12 percent of libraries in the Northeast experienced midyear budget reductions in 2003, and 8.4 percent in 2005. The South fared best, with 9.4 percent experiencing cuts in 2003 and 6.5 percent in 2005. Responses for FY2004 were not statistically significant.

  • The majority (approximately 60 percent) of libraries did not see any midyear changes in funding in FY2003-2005.

  • About 22 percent of libraries saw increases during the fiscal years studied, mostly in the 1 to 4 percent range. Libraries in Maryland and Florida reported among the highest increases in midyear and fiscal year funding.

  • The first two areas to be positively or negatively affected by midyear funding changes were materials and staffing. Electronic access was third most likely to benefit when additional funds were available, and hours open was third most likely to be cut if funding were reduced.

  • Looking to 2006, 58 percent of libraries anticipated funding to be flat; 32 percent anticipated increases due to improvements in local tax revenue; and about 9 percent anticipated more cuts.

"While the overall financial picture for libraries has improved going into this fiscal year, there is a cumulative effect of these cuts over years – particularly for our smaller libraries, on which so many Americans depend," said ALA President Michael Gorman. "Many libraries are being forced to do more with less." Almost 80 percent of libraries serve communities smaller than 25,000 people.

Comments included:

  • While the budget is flat, we are operating on less $ due to increased health insurance, utilities and other inflationary costs. 2004 and 2005 basically stayed the same in terms of budget allotment. However, increased operating costs have required that we change staffing patterns and reduce spending on materials. Our materials budget has been flat or declining since 2001.

  • We are located in a rapidly growing county, which is resulting in an increase of revenues. This is a good outcome for our Library System. Additionally, all county staff in all departments are receiving a 10% increase in salaries. Good growth=Good Libraries.

  • We had a 50% cut in State aid, 1% in county, and 20% in local donations. This was like a trickle down effect.

"The comments we received from respondents provide a significant context beyond the midyear cuts," said Denise Davis, director of the ALA Office for Research and Statistics. "Many libraries responded they were flat funded during this period. That is a long time to juggle operations as utilities and labor expenses continue to rise."

While libraries report revenue and expenditures to state libraries annually and to a federal library system for public library data, there was previously no midyear data available about public libraries. Comprehensive national data lags about two fiscal years behind the current fiscal year due to reporting procedures. To see the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, please visit http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/libraries/public.asp.

The ALA report, including comments from respondents, is available online at http://www.ala.org/ala/ors/reports/FundingIssuesinUSPLs.pdf.