Sweet Briar College, a 114-year-old women’s liberal arts school in Amherst County, VA, counts among its graduates author Elaine Dundy, class of 1943; film critic Molly Haskell, class of 1961; and U.S. ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, class of 1989. No doubt members of the class of 2015 will go on to great things as well. But there may be no class of 2016. On March 3, interim president James F. Jones Jr. announced that the college would close after the summer session, a statement that shocked most of the Sweet Briar community.
Library officials across Kentucky exhaled with relief on Friday, March 20, after the state Court of Appeals ruled that systems in two northern counties correctly and legally set their annual tax rate based on a decades-old law that allows revenue to be raised without voter approval. The decision reversed two lower-court verdicts and means the Campbell and Kenton County systems will not have to roll back their tax rates 35 years or more, which would have triggered staff layoffs, branch closures, and other draconian cuts.
New Orleans residents will go to the polls on May 2 to vote on a proposed new library millage which, if adopted, would pump an additional $8.25 million annually into a system that officials say is underfunded and barely holding the line on current services thanks to a reserve fund that will run dry in 2016.
Going beyond books, library gift shops are raising funds and awareness for a growing number of Friends and foundations. Libraries have long held sales of deaccessioned or donated books once or twice a year, usually run by all-volunteer Friends of the Library organizations. Many have dedicated spaces or rooms where books can be purchased year-round. These in-house used bookshops are moneymakers for libraries, with stock that’s often liberally seeded with last year’s best sellers. Following the lead of many bookstores, libraries are discovering a strong source of fundraising revenue in nonbook merchandise.
As part of a wider emphasis on digital publishing and the relevance of humanities scholarship, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) are giving new life to out-of-print humanities books. In January the two organizations announced a new joint pilot grant program, Humanities Open Book, which will help publishers identify important out-of-print works, secure rights to them, and convert them to EPUB format ebooks freely accessible under a Creative Commons (CC) license. Awards range from $50,000 to $100,000 per recipient, and will cover a period of one to three years.
On February 1 the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) hosted a session at the ALA Midwinter meeting in Chicago to answer the question, “What is a policy revolution anyway?” The answer: the Policy Revolution! Initiative (PRI)— the exclamation point is important, panelists advised—is a three-year grant-funded program to advance library policy at the national level, led by ALA OITP and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), with guidance from a Library Advisory Committee.
The McLean County Public Library, a one-branch system in the tiny rural community of Livermore, KY, is a valid special taxing district, a state appeals court affirmed in a Jan. 30 decision, enabling it to continue raising revenue without voter approval. McLean County is one of almost 100 county library systems in Kentucky operating as a special taxing district, so the decision was welcome news for the entire Kentucky library community, which is still awaiting the outcome of another pending appeals court case challenging the funding mechanism.
Eager to promote strategic priorities for 2015, officials for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) trained a spotlight on the various federal funding resources available through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) during a recent American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter session in Chicago. At a talk entitled, “All Eyes on IMLS: Funding Priorities and Reauthorization,” IMLS Acting Director Maura Marx and Robin Dale, the associate deputy director for state programs, outlined the scope and focus of LSTA’s grants to states and other discretionary spending for libraries.
If last year’s budget theme was cautious optimism, LJ’s 2015 library budget survey of U.S. public libraries, distributed geographically by size and type, continues the general upward trend. Libraries of all sizes, across the board, showed an increase in operating and salary budgets, and most, though not all, saw materials budgets rise as well. Of the 416 libraries that responded, 73% reported an increase in their total operating budgets from 2013 to 2014, up from 68% last year and 60% the year before. The overall change in total budgets was a healthy 4.3% increase. Compared to last year’s more modest 1.3% gains, these numbers indicate that libraries nationwide are beginning to find their fiscal footing after some lean years.
“When a library goes out for a vote, the librarians shift from being partners in education, skills building, personal enrichment, and community identity. We turn into the Tax Man,” write political action committee EveryLibrary’s John Chrastka and Rachel Korman in their take on 2014 referenda. This predicament is true for all libraries, but it is especially pointed for libraries that struggle at the polls.