Florida’s five regional multi-type library cooperatives (MLCs) are looking to raise awareness of how their work impacts services provided by the state’s public libraries, after Republican Governor Rick Scott vetoed Florida’s annual funding renewal for the organizations on April 18. During the fiscal year beginning in October, the cut will affect the Northeast Florida Library Information Network (NEFLIN) in Orange Park, the Panhandle Library Access Network (PLAN) in Panama City Beach, the Southeast Florida Library Information Network (SEFLIN) in Boca Raton, the Southwest Florida Library Network (SWFLN) in Fort Myers, and the Tampa Bay Library Consortium (TBLC) in Tampa.
“I’m running on fumes for the upcoming year,” SWFLN Director Luly Castro told LJ, noting that the organization did not receive federal funding for the current year. “Right now, I’m operating on this one particular program that the governor vetoed. If I’m unsuccessful in restoring some of that federal grant funding effective October 1, this loss of funding…may not keep me open for the entire [2012-2013] fiscal year.”
MLCs don’t have the public visibility of local libraries, but as Castro and other MLC leaders pointed out, these organizations provide vital support services. The MLCs coordinate Florida’s statewide interlibrary loan program, its statewide library delivery service, and the reciprocal borrowing agreements that allow Floridians to check out books from libraries outside of their own communities.
The MLCs also provide database maintenance and OCLC cataloging support services—especially to smaller libraries—to ensure that patrons can locate new materials both at their local library and throughout the state’s network. And, the organizations run continuing education programs that many of the state’s librarians depend on to stay up-to-date with current technologies or learn other new ways to provide services to their local communities.
There are other projects as well. SEFLIN, for example, recently helped facilitate the launch of the Southeast Florida Municipal Libraries Digital Consortium, bringing ebook access to more than a dozen Florida libraries.
“These are libraries in small communities that definitely could not afford their own ebook collections by themselves, but by 13 of them going together and pooling their money, they had enough to do a fairly significant collection,” said Jeannette Smithee, executive director of SEFLIN.
Similarly, SWFLN had been working with the University of Florida’s Digital Library Center on a project called “Digitizing Southwest Florida’s Heritage,” an effort to help the region’s libraries digitally preserve collections of photographs, documents, and ephemera related to the region. That effort had already been suspended this year due to budget constraints.
“A lot of people are not completely aware of what it is that library cooperatives do behind the scenes,” Castro said.
Caught In Between
Like most U.S. states, Florida has been hit hard by the recession, and Scott is grappling with a budget crunch. Generally speaking, the governor’s views on spending seem to be that the state should focus on programs that benefit the state as a whole, while cities and counties should focus their spending on programs that benefit local communities.
The $1.5 million in Library Cooperative Grant cuts were among $143 million in line-item vetoes that Scott signed prior to passing the state’s $70 billion budget. Other cuts included grants for “disadvantaged youths, clinics, courthouse, road and seaport improvements, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, and a Bay of Pigs museum in Miami,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. As regional entities operating statewide programs to benefit local libraries, the role that MLCs play in the state’s library system may have been unclear to Scott.
“That’s kind of our hunch, but there was no clear communication about this particular [line] item,” said TBLC Executive Director Charlie Parker.
Regardless, shifting these types of services to the local level would be highly inefficient. For example, according to an action letter from TBLC, the MLC-coordinated statewide delivery service saves Florida’s libraries about $750,000 annually, compared with the cost of shipping the same volume of items through the U.S. Postal Service. These savings, alone, would have accounted for half of the $1.5 million in FY12-13 Library Cooperative Grants that were vetoed.
The MLCs can also receive funding through the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants. But, as Smithee noted, the cooperatives generally have relied on state funding to perform their primary services—OCLC cataloging support, interlibrary loan facilitation, and statewide library delivery service—while using LSTA grants for other projects, such as SEFLIN’s work to help get ebooks to small libraries in their region.
With Scott’s veto, the state funding for FY12-13 is now gone. But, the MLCs are hoping that by connecting with the governor’s office to raise awareness about the crucial services they provide, the organizations can survive the coming year and have the funding restored for 2013-2014.
“Our first line of strategy is to ask our members, and our members’ users, to do the letter writing, to say what services of ours they use, and what they will miss,” said Smithee.
Meanwhile, the MLCs are planning for lean months ahead. Parker said that TBLC was cutting back “everything they can,” leaving a position unfilled and will still likely need to tap its reserves in the coming months. He said TBLC will make it through, but “I don’t think that it’s clear, at this moment, if all five of the organizations can survive another year.”
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