Public Libraries Fear Loss of Federal Funding

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by Michael Wetzel, courtesy of Decatur Daily

Local libraries expect to get their share of federal funding for fiscal 2018, but library directors are fearful funding allocations could change at any moment in Washington, D.C.

Decatur (AL) Public Library Director Sherry Sakovich said losing federal funding would curtail some programs and services. Lawrence County Public Library Director Rex Bain said the loss of federal funding would be devastating.

“Since 2011, we’ve received $93,000, including $16,000 this year just in federal funds,” Bain said. “Our smart devices and technology like that will disappear. We’re already cut by 62 percent by the County Commission in the past couple of years.”

In March, President Donald Trump's administration announced it wanted to eliminate funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as funding for several other agencies. Last week, Jim Neal, president of the American Library Association, announced that a U.S. House appropriations subcommittee voted to recommend level funding for the institute in fiscal 2018. About 75 percent of money that goes to the institute is set aside for libraries.

“In Trump’s budget proposal, the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) is one of those agencies completely eliminated,” Sakovich said. “Most legislators don’t really realize what IMLS stands for, and they don’t realize the impact eliminating it will have on public libraries across the country.”

Bain said the Lawrence County library in Moulton is fighting to stay open. He said budget restraints have the library open only 40 hours a week and closed four weeks during the year. Bain is the only full-time employee. He said there are three part-time employees and volunteers.

Bain said a fundraiser at the end of 2016 brought in $11,000, about half its goal, to help pay operating costs.  While the Decatur Public Library is not in as dire straits, Sakovich said if federal funds dry up, “It’ll stunt our growth.”

“The Library Services and Technology Act provides money for materials and computers and programs," she said. “That’s our lifeblood. It allows us to apply for grants. Without the federal money, those would be well out of our reach. We can’t offer special services or improve our services."

The Library Services and Technology Act is the only federal program that provides money for libraries, and is administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Decatur library has 84 computers, 51 with public access, Sakovich said. Last year, the computers were replaced with a $50,000 grant. In 2017, the library has received $34,130 in federal grant money to upgrade programs and offer computer classes.

Sakovich said the library is receiving “incredibly positive feedback” from its free computer classes, funded by federal money.  Decatur’s library is open seven days a week, Sakovich said.

“We offer access to over 102,781 materials including books, audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, ebooks and magazines,” she said. She added 184,087 people visited the library on Lee Street in 2016.

But she remains cautious.  “At this juncture, we’re still in the game,” Sakovich said.