February 17, 2018

California Librarians Say Brown’s Budget Proposal Undermines Core Principles

Since California Governor Jerry Brown proposed in January a state budget with no funding for libraries for the second year in a row, librarians across the state are worried that two fundamental principles, universal borrowing and equal access, are threatened.

Universal Access Fraying
Together, the principles mean patrons of any library in a cooperative can access the collections and services of any library in the system, and the principles are enshrined in the California Library Services Act.  If that act goes unfunded, libraries no longer have a financial incentive to participate in the cooperative systems, according to Rosario Garza, executive director of Southern California Library Cooperative. Garza said the cooperative is already seeing city governments questioning the value of continued membership.

State Librarian Stacey Aldrich said systems that pull out of the cooperatives could charge patrons who live outside their jurisdiction for library cards – Santa Clara is already charging $80. And while the solution to just go to the library in your own jurisdiction seems simple, it isn’t always possible in practice. “We have kids who can’t go to the library that’s in their jurisdiction because they have to cross gang lines,” Aldrich said.

Rivkah Sass, director of the Sacramento Public Library, told LJ that even at its high point, state funding only came to about 2 percent of her library’s budget. But though you might think that number is too small to make a difference, Sass said it’s not so. “It causes us to rethink the whole idea of resource sharing,” she said.  Some of Sacramento’s partner libraries “cannot afford delivery and we can’t afford to subsidize them. Their existence is threatened. We’re facing our own budget challenges with diminishing revenues. It’s not that we don’t want to share, but how can we share when we don’t have enough for our own users and patrons? It’s taking away our ability to look at the bigger picture,” said Sass. “I’m not faulting anybody in these economic times, but I don’t know that we’re ever going to rebuild it.”

Since the cooperatives are much more dependent on state funding than the individual libraries, the loss also means they must reduce, outsource, or even eliminate services such as delivery that make universal borrowing practical. Both the Southern California cooperative, which lost 50 percent of its budget, and the tiny 49-99 cooperative, which Garza also administers, rank delivery as their highest priority, though Southern California is planning to outsource the function. 49-99, which lost 75 percent of its budget, is essentially cutting everything else to keep it.

Executive Director Annette Milliron Debacker said the NorthNet Library System previously coordinated resource sharing, staff training, licensing databases, and ebooks, all of which saved the member libraries money. However, “with the elimination of funding from the state, they had to choose between an office and a staff and a delivery system,” she said. They chose delivery, so Debacker is in the process of working herself out of a job, transferring files and training member library personnel to salvage what they can.

Vera Skop, coordinator of Serra Cooperative Library System, is also working herself out of a job, and the cooperative, which was about 75 percent funded by state money, has also had to switch to a slower hub-and-spoke model for delivery. Maureen Theobald, executive director of Black Gold Cooperative Library System, said the system, which lost about a third of its funding, is moving from four-day-a-week to three-day-a-week delivery and has furloughed staff.

The state library is unlikely to be in a position to step in and hold the system together: it’s facing its own $1.1 million cut on the theory that it no longer needed the employees who had managed the five programs which have been eliminated. Aldrich says the state’s finance department eliminated 13 positions, when in fact only five employees really had been running those programs, and those not full time. The State Library has lost about 50 positions over the past three years, and Aldrich, too, said she was rethinking services, trying to stick to the library’s core mission.

Changing the Co-operative Model
According to Skop, the cash-strapped Serra libraries “are working on devising a model where libraries provide in-kind services to each other.” Linda Crowe, executive director of the Pacific Library Partnership, like everyone else, highlighted delivery as a core service. But she said cooperatives need to look beyond that if they want to survive. “Cooperatives as a whole are at a strategic point,” said Crowe. “They’re going to have to provide really core services, like shared integrated library systems (ILS), for instance. They have to be able to save libraries money. Return on investment is going to be really important.” Crowe cited San Joaquin Valley Library System’s shared ILS as a model. And Theobold agrees that it works. She told LJ, “Because of our shared automated system we have always relied on contributions, so we are in better shape than some of the other cooperatives.”

Federal Funding Threatened
Aldrich told LJ that it’s not only the state funding that’s jeopardized by the governor’s budget. “The state has to show commitment to libraries to get the federal funding,” she said. If Brown’s budget passes as it stands, California would fall short of the federal government’s maintenance of effort requirement by 20 percent and would have to ask for a waiver. According to Aldrich, what usually happens is that the state is penalized in proportion to its shortfall, so California’s libraries would see a 20 percent drop in federal funds on top of the loss from the state.

And if the state funding remains at zero for several years, eventually California would lose its entire federal library funding, according to Jane Light, chair of the California Library Association (CLA)’s Legislative Committee.

Funding Battle Far From Over
Light told LJ that she expects this year’s process of fighting the governor’s budget to be in many ways a reprise of last year’s. CLA and its lobbyists will again be working with Assembly and Senate legislators who are interested in libraries to try to restore $15.2 million in funding. That’s 50 percent of what the libraries had been getting, and the same amount that was restored by the legislature last year, only to be undone by the “trigger” provision. Light says the librarians themselves proposed this still-drastic reduction. “We said we know everyone has to make sacrifices, we just don’t think we should make 100 percent. We figured we could keep things going at a reduced level and when things get better, we could get going again.”

According to Light, CLA’s lobbyists say California’s libraries may be facing a trigger again this year, but of a different form than last year’s, which was tied to a revenue target. “The governor is planning a ballot measure to increase the income tax on wealthy people and to increase the sales tax half a percent for four years. His budget will be predicated on that passing so a trigger would take effect if that does not pass,” she explained.  But though the fight is the same, the weapons are new: CLA is adopting the American Library Association’s CapWiz tool to help mobilize support.


Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Holly McDede says:

    CapWiz Tool? I tried figuring out what that is on the link but it is still confusing to me…

  2. I want to clarify that the “Santa Clara” mentioned in the article for charging $80 for membership is the Santa Clara County Library District which is comprised of seven community libraries. Santa Clara City Library is a municipal library that does not charge a membership fee and access to materials and resources is available at no charge to all members of the public. Neighboring municipal libraries that also do not charge membership fees include Los Gatos, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose and Sunnyvale.

    Julie Passalacqua, City Librarian, Santa Clara City LIbrary