February 22, 2018

Florida State Library Collection to Go to University; Librarians Outraged

By LJ Staff

Confirming what librarians suspected, Florida officials announced February 25 that the Florida State Library’s circulating collection of some 670,000 items, nearly half of them books, would be moved to the library of the private Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. Nova would also get $5 million over four years for upkeep of the $10 million collection. Librarians were outraged. Former State Librarian Bill Summers, who teaches library science at Florida State University, was at the Tallahassee press conference, representing the Florida Library Association (FLA). “That’s a good deal; $50 a book,” he said. “The state’s paying them $50 a book to give them books the state already owns.”

The transfer would take place July 1, but before that, librarians and other supporters plan a furious legislative campaign. However, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he doesn’t need legislative approval for the transfer, just for appropriation of the requested funding. State officials said Florida would save about $3.8 million annually in salaries and costs of maintaining the collection, while providing greater access to the collection because it would be located in a more densely populated area. Librarians, however, pointed out that the collection is mostly specialized to the needs of state government.

Nova’s 325,000-square-foot library, which opened in 2001 and has under 500,000 volumes, grants full access to both university students and Broward County cardholders. Broward County Library Director Sam Morrison, who was chided by some librarians for not speaking out on the issue, finally issued a statement. He noted that Broward County had not been involved in the negotiations and that the Broward County Board of Commissioners voted to support the county library advisory board’s endorsement of FLA’s opposition to Bush’s plan. Nova President Ray Ferrero, asked about that opposition, declared, “This is Nova Southeastern’s Library. It is our building. We feel we can go forward with this.”

Senate President Jim King (R-Jacksonville) was among the politicians and editorialists who criticized the plan, noting that Nova might limit access to the collection, including gifts made under the assumption the donations would be publicly available. “We’ve got 140-some years of the library being all connected in one place,” he said. “I would like to see if we can keep it.” The St. Petersburg Times observed that four public universities “are as well-situated as the private school Bush intends to gift with a $10-million collection and $5-million… Were any of the state universities offered the collection on comparably generous terms? Apparently not.”