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.”