Library budgets trend downward, though 52 percent expect an increase. Lack of support at state level adds to strain
Library Journal’s annual budget survey reveals that many public libraries are, at best, furiously treading water.
The 388 libraries that responded to the survey projected a negligible overall decrease in their total 2012 operating budgets (0.7 percent). Materials budgets are down 1.2 percent. And personnel budgets are relatively flat, with an uptick of just 0.2 percent.
But most libraries have still not recovered from the massive cuts inflicted since the financial crisis of 2008, and when this depressed starting point meets with the rapid evaporation of state aid and the inexorable rise of expenses, then the numbers often translate to stressed staffs, fewer materials, and reduced service hours.
One librarian at a large Texas library, who like many survey respondents requested anonymity, summarized the situation well:
The worst impact of the budget cuts has been on the overall employee morale of the organization. With continued decreased funding resulting in a reduction in available service hours, the number of staff continues to decline. This increases the workload of the existing staff and forces us to use materials funding in order to hire temporary staff to meet workload demand. The use of materials funding to pay temporary workers results in a decline in the quality of our collection and translates into a decline in customer satisfaction.
Growing state gap
Of course, it has been a particularly grim year in Texas. In July, Gov. Rick Perry signed a new state biennial budget (FY12/13) that reduced state funding for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by 64 percent and cut state funding for the agency’s library programs by 88 percent.
“Everybody is just shaking their heads because this is more drastic than any measures we’ve seen in the past, and I’ve been around Texas libraries for more than 40 years,” Jerilynn Williams, president of the Texas Library Association and director at Montgomery County Library, said at the time.
The effects of these budget decisions are very real. For example, the 40-year-old South Texas Library System (STLS), which serves a network of 55 public libraries, was scheduled to close December 31, 2011.
State funding is generally not a primary revenue source for public library budgets. The LJ survey showed that 63 percent of the respondents rely on an annual appropriation from the local government, and 31 percent have an independent library district (the latter being particularly prominent for respondents from the Midwest).
Nevertheless, state funding frequently helps cushion reduced or stagnant local funding, and it also pays for the statewide systems, such as STLS, that allow for regional resource sharing, consulting, and professional development. Also, state funding has been the focus of several major budget battles this past year.
California’s public libraries have been struggling to maintain their ecosystem of shared services in the face of the elimination of all state funding this past year, a decision only finalized on December 13. As in Texas, the drying up of state money is putting a strain on the state’s cooperative library systems, a resource sharing network California librarians have been developing since the 1970s. It also is driving public libraries in the state to begin charging nonresidents annual library card fees, such as the one instituted in July by the Santa Clara County Library District Joint Powers Authority, because the state will no longer reimburse public libraries for lending materials to nonresidents, as it has done since 1988.
“Budget cuts began in 2008 and have remained constant since then,” wrote one California librarian in response to LJ’s budget survey. “The worst impacts have been the reduction of services and open hours as well as staff cuts. At times it feels as if we are not a full-service public library any longer,” she wrote.
In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder wants to eliminate the personal property tax, a revenue source that underpins many local services. The Michigan Library Association (MLA) estimates that if the personal property tax (which is a business tax on equipment) were eliminated and not fully replaced it would cost the state’s libraries about $30 million in state funding. MLA has been gearing up for a fight, and the Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up the issue some time in January 2012.
Ohio voters, as usual, approved 77 percent of the public library issues on the November 8 ballot, including 12 of 17 new library levies, four renewal levies, and two replacement levies. However, this success rate may inadvertently be spurring reduced allocations to the state Public Library Fund (from 1.97 percent of tax revenue to 1.67 percent) for the next biennial state budget (July 2011 through June 2013). State money as the bedrock of library budgets in Ohio may become a thing of the past for many libraries.
“Some Ohio library leaders…worry that local levy success will fuel even more cuts at the state level,” Patrick Losinski, executive director of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, wrote in LJ . “It’s a legitimate concern when state politicians are making major reductions in other line items or eliminating programs in their entirety. Given the choice, Ohio libraries would have preferred to maintain robust state funding—changing state policy/philosophy has necessitated the move to local levy funding,” he wrote.
Thirty-five percent of public library districts in Ohio now rely on local levies for the majority of their funding.
And the story was the same at the federal level. At the end of December, Congress cut funding for the Library Services & Technology Act (LSTA) by 2.3 percent, to $185 million.
The bigger they are…
Budget struggles, whether at the federal, state, or local level, hit larger library systems the hardest, according to LJ’s survey: those with service populations from 500,000 to 999,999 reported on average a 2.7 percent reduction in their budgets, and those with service populations above one million reported an average reduction of 1.8 percent. The 10,000–24,999 population range was the sweet spot, with libraries of that size reporting an average increase of 2.5 percent.
Many larger systems could only look with envy on perhaps the most significant, positive library budget event of the past year: the passage in Los Angeles of Measure L in March, which has assured the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) of a dedicated and stable revenue stream for the foreseeable future.
“This was a game changer,” said Peter Persic, LAPL’s public relations and marketing director. “It really has taken our budget out of the typical process and made it into an entirely different creature.”
There were other signs of encouragement elsewhere. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will receive about $3.25 million more a year after passage of a 0.25-mill special tax on all taxable real estate in the city.
The Fort Worth Public Library, TX, saw its FY12 budget increase five percent, to $19.9 million, on September 20. The Milwaukee Public Library got a two percent increase, to $22.7 million. The Denver Public Library managed to keep its funding essentially flat for FY12, even as it struggled to find a long-term funding solution, possibly a library district, in order to avoid closing branches.
But other large systems had to deal with bleak numbers. Florida’s Miami-Dade Public Library’s operating budget for FY12, which began October 1, is being cut 30 percent, from $74.8 million to $52.2 million. The library has eliminated all 153 part-time workers and has cut the number of full-time staff from 621 to 466, a 25 percent reduction.
The Chicago Public Library’s budget, passed November 16, is being cut $6.7 million, and the library laid off 176 workers the first week of January and closed all but three of its branches on Mondays.
Detroit Public Library is closing four branches; the Seattle Public Library will have to close its doors for a week, and staff won’t get paid.
Doing the work of two
Overall, libraries in the LJ survey reported 2.7 fewer employees this year, although 45 percent of the respondents reported no change in staff size from 2010 to 2011. Libraries in the South reported the greatest reduction on average (5.9 fewer employees).
“The worst impact on the library in terms of budget cuts are in the area of staffing,” said one librarian at a small library in Illinois. “We are constantly short-staffed and must do the work of two librarians at all times. This is our new normal,” she wrote.
The sentiment was not isolated. A full 78 percent of the respondents said that in order to cope with staff cuts (77 percent of which came through attrition or a hiring freeze) they had to absorb a greater workload and be cross-trained.
“Library use is up about 25 percent since 2009 with about the same number of staff—everyone is doing more and getting paid less,” wrote Donna Howell, the director of the Mountain Regional Library System in Georgia.
Fairness and optimism
Nevertheless, 84 percent of the survey’s respondents felt that the local authorities had treated the library system fairly in relation to other government sectors, although the smallest libraries and the largest felt more put upon. Only eight percent of the respondents felt they were dealing with unsupportive politicians, and 97 percent reported some degree of advocacy from the community.
The San Francisco Public Library was the beneficiary of particularly significant Friends support, receiving a $4.1 million grant on February 3, the single largest grant ever made by the group.
Perhaps this kind of sympathy explains in part why 52 percent of the survey’s respondents expect their operating budgets to increase in the next fiscal year. There may be some fiscal justification for that optimism as well.
The National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) reported on November 18 that 43 states enacted an FY12 budget with higher general fund spending than FY11. However, even with that increase, the total enacted general fund spending in FY12 is still $20 billion, or 3.1 percent, less than the prerecession high of $687 billion in FY08.
In addition, a December 1 survey of state legislative fiscal officers by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that revenue performance has improved, expenditures in most states are stable, and few states are reporting budget gaps in the early months of FY12.
The most unique revenue situation may prevail in Joplin, MO, where the public library itself emerged relatively unscathed from the tornado in May, but the havoc wreaked on the town’s property will depress future assessments—and the library funding that relies on those assessments, as a librarian there described:
“Our budget cuts will be felt the most this coming budget year (and perhaps beyond). Our library is property tax supported. It was our library district that was devastated in a tornado just five months ago. While the resulting property tax revenue is not projected to be down as much as we initially feared, it is still unknown how much future assessments will affect us. We have cut personnel, collections, and programming.”
But until those bigger operating budgets become a reality, the public libraries participating in the LJ survey will be less accessible than they have been in years past, even though 79 percent of the respondents reported no change in open hours over the past 12 months. The overall change in the number of weekly open hours per system was down another 2.2 hours over the last year, to an average of 49. In 2004, this number was 59.1 hours. Larger systems were again hit particularly hard, especially those in the 500,000–999,999 population range, which lost another 43 hours per week.
The Sacramento Public Library, CA, was typical: its operating budget approved on September 29 cut the library’s funding from $34.4 million to $30.9 million. As a result, the library reduced service hours at all 27 branches plus the central library by 43 hours a week, which is tantamount to closing a small branch.
Jeanne Goodrich, director of the Las Vegas–Clark County Library, NV, summed the story up this way: “Loss of 93 positions, including 23 layoffs, reduction in urban branch hours from 72 per week to 60, reduction of $4.5 million in library materials budget. All of this results in reductions in services to our communities.”