August 30, 2014

Update: Louisiana Eliminates State Aid to Public Libraries

The article has been updated to include information on Federal grants to Louisiana libraries.

The Louisiana budget signed by Governor Bobby Jindal on June 15 eliminates almost $1 million in state aid to libraries, according to The Advocate. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said Jindal excluded the $896,000 when he presented his proposed spending plan, and legislators failed to find funding for libraries during the regular session.

Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide, said in a statement, “In tight budget times, we prioritized funding for health care and education. Operations such as local libraries can be supported with local, not state dollars.”

Rebecca Hamilton, State Librarian of Louisiana, told LJ, “The State Aid to Public Libraries program was eliminated from this year’s budget. This money was given directly out to the public libraries on a base grant and per capita basis. They used the money for technology and collections.”

Louisiana Division of Administration spokesman Michael DiResto told LJ: “The FY 13 Louisiana budget includes two federal technology grants for the State Library for the purchase of e-books ($1 million), which local libraries can use through the interlibrary loan program, and to provide statewide technology training and equipment for public libraries ($782K) – for a total of almost $1.8 million, which more than makes up for the $896K in direct state funding.”

However, those federal technological funds from the BTOP program are earmarked specifically for providing training, laptops for citizens to check out, and accessible workstations for the blind. As such they cannot be distributed to local libraries to maintain, upgrade, or replace the in-library desktop PCs and servers that were previously covered by state aid. Increased access to ebooks may help make up for lack of collection development dollars to some extent, but since 34-43 percent of Louisiana residents don’t have Internet access at home, ebooks can’t completely replace the lost dollars for print materials, especially in poorer areas.

LJ caught up with several of the smaller Louisiana libraries which are hardest hit by the cuts. Mary Bennett Lindsey, director of the two-parish Audubon Regional Library, operates three libraries and a bookmobile. Lindsey told LJ, “we were getting almost $50,000 [in state aid], which is 10 percent of our budget.” Of that, Audubon allocated $30,000 for books—$12000 more than the system would otherwise be able to spend. “Which isn’t an awful lot when you divide by three, but it’s enough to keep up with the current bestsellers and buying an encyclopedia once in a while,” she said. Audubon used the balance of the aid for technology: replacing 15 computer workstations and covering the portion of the library’s new server which is not funded by the Federal erate program.

With that aid gone, “I’m just going to pray,” Lindsey told LJ. “We’ll just have to cut back on books and hope we get through. If our server goes down or the switches go down, it’s going to have to come from somewhere. It’s not going to come from utilities; we’re barely paying people above minimum wage so it’s not going to come out of salary, we may have to cut hours.”

Lindsey explains that the library computers are a lifeline because “the state requires you to do unemployment online, welfare online. They are closing the local parish offices and they say go to the library, but the library doesn’t get any extra money for IT.”

Amanda Taylor, library director for Concordia Parish, sounded a similar note. “There’s no longer a food stamp office; there’s no longer a social security office. In our rural parish a lot of our people have low literacy skills and very few computer skills. They come to the library because all of that has to be done online. There are some offices in some bigger areas but there’s no mass transportation and a lot of our people do not have transportation to a place that’s two hours away. A lot of our people have children in the military and they come to email their children that are all over the world on these bases. And almost all of the companies require you to do a job application online, even if it’s just for a truck driver who doesn’t need to be great at computer skills, so it is very important that we offer this service.”

Concordia formerly got $12,000 per year from the state, which it used to “keep up all of the maintenance [on its 52 PCs], buy new software, and to buy new equipment as needed.”

With that money gone, Concordia plans not to buy anything new, and hope all its old equipment keeps working. Maintenance costs will have to come out of the materials budget. In the meantime, Taylor is already working on getting the funding restored. “We are already talking to our legislators about the next budget,” she said. “We are going to work really hard to make the legislators understand how important it is in these rural areas because citizens depend on the public library. We’re going to hope for the legislature to open their eyes to what we do every day.”

Beth Vandersteen, West Baton Rouge Parish Library director, says her parish is fortunate to receive solid support from the petroleum industry in property taxes but even still, losing $11,000 in aid will be a blow. “We’re going to have to make that up somehow,” she said. “About a fourth of our equipment gets updated every year. Our patrons are not going to understand if our equipment is slow or broken and not replaced. It’s a fight for us every year because we have to reeducate and explain how important it is.”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Samuel Smith says:

    How can we educate the public about how important it is to invest in the future? I do what I can (https://plus.google.com/u/0/116187436832996338309/posts/E5KFeDaVfhg) but there must be a more efficacious way to turn the tide from borrowing from our future to building a better one.

  2. Why is it that elected officials never see the connections that libraries provide, especially in times of economic need, for people: access to employment, literacy, education, self-help, and last but not least, entertainment. Do we elect people who are either independently wealthy and don’t have a clue or choose to forget, or worse perhaps we elect people who have no compassion in their narrow vision of who makes the sacrifices in our society?

  3. [Comment removed according to the LJ Comments Policy. — Josh Hadro, executive editor, digital, LJ]

  4. Wow Sanjay…you are a posterboy for why libraries need state funding. Thank you for proving the link between library funding cuts and reenforced Louisiana stereotypes.

  5. kafantaris says:

    Bobby Jindal will next look for ways to get Louisiana out of the United Nations.

  6. Liz, the reason “elected officials never see the connections” is that we are not good enough at pointing them out. Publicizing our value to legislators is vital; they are too busy to figure it out on their own. (And yes, I’m sure some are wealthy, clueless, or narrow-minded.)

    Samuel, as a non-librarian, you can still help. Check out http://www.ilovelibraries.org/, a site that tells people how to advocate. I also have a website about library marketing, http://www.LibrariesAreEssential.com. Write letters to govt officials, support local library activities, join their Friends groups, and keep talking it up on social media.

    Also, Stephanie Vance is an expert on how to get through to govt officials & has lots of great resources: http://advocacyguru.com/

    Let’s all work together to keep libraries funded!

  7. Morton Smith says:

    This is horrible. These officials need to know that funding is necessary for these libraries for students to learn. In till these officials want to to help fund the future generations, libraries can go to GranWatch.com Helpful this will get resolved.

  8. Morton Smith says:

    I meant to say GrantWatch.com Helpful this will get resolved.

  9. Quackerz says:

    It should be crystal clear by now that Republicans simply do not value public education (this includes libraries) very highly.

  10. Andy Channelle says:

    “With that aid gone, “I’m just going to pray,” Lindsey told LJ.”

    Praying will get you nowhere. You need to organise. Resist. Vote.

  11. Here’s an chance for BP to get back in Louisiana’s good graces. How about a donation?

  12. Joneser says:

    “Education” in Louisiana = vouchers to private schools.

  13. Let’s see the government wants to focus on education and bring up reading proficency for US students. I know let’s cut funding to school libraries and public libraries after all you can get anything you need on the internet. Now what else can we cut? Technology funding! After all why should all those tax dollars people send in from their salaries and purchases be wasted on educating them? (If we [the government] educate them [citizens] they just might realize what a rotten job we’re doing handling their money and vote us out of office!)

  14. US based manufacturing has gone through the same problems now being faced by US based public libraries. How can US based manufacturing compete when similar goods are dumped in the marketplace at a much lower cost? Sure, there may be some difference in quality, and we all know that it is collectively better to spend locally. But, individually we all want goods and services as cheap as we can get them.

    That same individual purchasing philosophy affects public libraries. Information from competing resources is available fast and cheap. We all know that public libraries provide superior information resources and local advancement of knowledge is collectively a great. But, even though there is a difference in quality we still want goods and services as cheap as we can get them. It is hard to imagine winning every battle with every legislature based on the notion of what represents the collective good.

    Public libraries really do not need servers. Servers are similar to the printing presses at newspapers – representing a huge investment of time and money – but no longer the only method of production and distribution. Libraries never need to host a website locally (and really shouldn’t). Libraries are mostly on shared catalogs. Libraries can accomplish almost everything they need to do now in the cloud if they have bandwidth, and they can get those services cheaper. So, rather than looking at maintaining 1995-2000 technology with expensive servers – the effort should be to make sure that public libraries have the bandwidth to make servers unnecessary. This is an E-Rate issue and can be tackled at the Federal level of government. I think it is a battle than can be won.

  15. Louis Boyd says:

    This is part of Jinda’s strategy–along with killing public education–to keep people in Louisiana as desperate and ignorant as possible. Only people who are desperately ignorant can be persuaded that up is down and that they should therefore keep voting for people who are stabbing them in the back politically, economically, educationally, and every other way.

  16. Keith Daggett says:

    An attempt by right-wing republican lawmakers to curtail reasoned remarks by blog from the little people.