June 18, 2018

IMLS Report: State Library Funding Still Suffering

State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAA) across the country have largely still not recovered from the major decreases in revenue and staffing they experienced during the economic recession, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) biennial State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAA) Survey, conducted in FY16.

“The SLAA report shows how many of the nation’s libraries continue to be financially challenged by the effects of the recession as they strive to maintain valued community services,” IMLS director Kathryn K. Matthew told LJ.

The report, the eighth such cooperative effort of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), IMLS, and American Institutes for Research, offers a look at long-term trends across the country, as well as contrasting the ways that different agencies have responded to decreases in funding as their public-facing work has grown. It tracks three sets of indicators: revenues and expenditures; workforce; and services provided.

Over the past 12 years SLAA revenues declined by over a fifth, with expenditures falling by 22 percent, according to the report. SLAAs rebounded slightly in 2014 but that didn’t last—as of FY16, both metrics are at their lowest levels since 2004. Revenues and expenditures of funds through the Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) decreased by 20 percent from 2004­–16.

In FY16, SLAA revenues totaled more than $1 billion across federal, state, and other revenue sources; 82 percent from states and 15 percent from federal sources. Expenditures came in at only slightly less, with two-thirds spent on financial assistance to libraries and a third going to operations.

Clustered by loss level

Starting with the FY14 report, the 51 SLAAs were grouped in one of three clusters based on changes in revenue and expenditure, in order to better evaluate how the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009) affected state libraries. SLAAs identified their revenues and expenditures as either “some recovery,” “post-recession decline,” or “long-term decline.” States in the “some recovery” cluster saw an increase in per capita revenues (16 percent) and expenditures (13 percent), while both revenues and expenditures in states in the “post-recession decline” cluster dropped by 25 percent. Those in the “long-term decline” cluster saw decreases in both areas of 46 percent.

Not surprisingly, loss of fiscal support led to loss of staff: SLAAs employed 2,633 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in FY16, with the majority (49 percent) in library services, 20 percent in library development, 14 percent in administration, and 17 percent in other services—down 24 percent over the past decade.

SLAAs funded by their state’s department of education showed the greatest decline in staff over that time, at 40 percent, while those funded through departments of state or administration reduced staff members by only 14 percent. However, Department of Education–funded SLAAs had higher revenues and expenditures overall compared with those funded through other administrative structures—nearly twice that of other SLAAs since FY04.

Still in service

SLAAs, in addition to coordinating and distributing federal funds to public, academic, research, school, and special libraries in their state, also provide reference and information services to their state governments, administer state libraries or serve as state archives, operate libraries for the blind or physically disabled, and support their State Center for the Book. In some states, they also function as public libraries and provide standard public library services. Said Matthews, “The services and programs they fund, such as reference, electronic databases, computer instruction, homework centers, summer reading programs, are vital to meeting the learning and information needs of the American public.”

In addition to creating the category clusters based on how severe the financial hit the SLAA had taken, the questionnaire was also redesigned to better indicate types of services provided. These groupings were repeated in the 2016 report, allowing IMLS to chart patterns over those four years.

Most services offered by SLAAs in 2016 were offered at rates similar to 2014. Consulting services were provided by 49 of 51 SLAAs, mainly in the area of library management and organizational development, continuing education, and youth services. Literacy support in some form was provided by 39 SLAAs. Despite the downward trend in revenues, however, statewide reading programs increased from 61 to 86 percent over those two years, with 31 SLAAs offering them.

“Overall, there’s a lot of reorganization of state libraries that has occurred,” noted Mark Smith, director and librarian at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and a member of the IMLS Library Statistics Working Group (LSWG), which helped develop the survey’s structure. “I think there’s a number of states where there have been long-term hits and that’s always distressing to see, but generally [SLAAs] continue to provide an important service to states. I think the surveys indicate that.”

BUILDING A BETTER SURVEY

The federal government has been collecting data on SLAAs since 1994. Through 2005 the reports were compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in collaboration with the Library Statistics Program and the U.S. Department of Education; IMLS first produced the SLAA report for FY06 in November 2007.

The 2016 report was also redesigned to group SLAAs based on their administrative structure within their state governments. Seventeen were independent agencies (or part of the state’s legislative branch); 15 were Department of Education–based, 11 were part of the Department of State or Administration, and eight identified as “other,” such as cultural or arts agencies. Because the administrative structures of SLAAs have remained mostly stable for the past 12 years, IMLS was able to provide a comparison of the agencies from pre- to post-recession.

The survey’s recent structural changes were driven by the LSWG, which consists of five COSLA chiefs, five state data coordinators, and up to five researchers who provided input on the research.

During the proceedings IMLS and the LSWG met often. “We had an opportunity to offer feedback,” said Smith. “There was quite a bit of engagement with the working group about this survey and [those in] previous years, in terms of how [the survey] evolved. Like all of the IMLS library surveys, they come back…to get feedback from practitioners.”

Smith has been involved in state library data collection for a number of years, and worked with the Texas State Library as a data coordinator in the 1990s. “It’s an area of interest of mine,” he told LJ, “and it’s fascinating to see how it works.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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