Missouri’s Libraries are Important (A Call to Action)

Back in April, I hinted at how Missouri’s legislator was toying with pulling funding for its libraries for FY15.  After much debate, the funding was restored.  Almost immediately, the battle for funding in FY16 began.  In that post I wrote:

This year more than any it is important to remember what the library does for its community.  Too many have tried to block library funding.  Look at what happened in Missouri.  First, the state government threatened to withhold approximately $6 million meant for libraries and internet access within libraries.  The governor even had teenagers who went to speak with him about the issue kicked out of the capitol building.  And this was after having the majority of the funds withheld the previous year (read the linked to article for more details)….Luckily in Missouri, the funds were unexpectedly released, but the debate continues for the next fiscal year.

Last week, the budget for FY16 was released.  Despite everything the Missouri Library Association did to save Missouri’s libraries and a “Save Missouri Libraries” petition, the budget was drastically slashed.  Additionally, the media coverage of the battle was minimal, so few may know about it or the results.  Here are the official numbers according to the Missouri State Library‘s Show-Me Express newsletter (which is a PDF sent via e-mail):

State Aid for Public Libraries: FY16 – $726,773; FY15 – $3,504,001

REAL Program: FY16 – $2 million; FY15 – $3,109,250

Athlete and Entertainer: FY16 – $800,000; FY15 – $800,000

LSTA: FY16 -$4,125,000; FY15 – $4,125,000*

Funding for public libraries in the state has been reduced approximately 80%.  This will especially hurt the smallest libraries, many of which were barely making due before this announcement,  The REAL Program funds internet access and this, like public library funding, has been reduced previously.  With the rising cost of internet services and the need for more bandwidth, this hurts the technological growth of Missouri libraries.  Besides libraries, the loss of these funds also affect public schools, healthcare facilities, and other cultural institutions that receive the funds.  The Athlete and Entertainer fund, paid for via a tax on visiting entertainers and athletes, remains stagnant and is used to purchase materials.  LSTA funds, also remaining stagnant, are used for matching federal funding grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.**

Reference Librarian assisting patrons at the Library of Congress.  Image via Creative Commons Image Search.

Reference Librarian assisting patrons at the Library of Congress. Image via Creative Commons Image Search.

Realistically, I do not see how Missouri’s libraries will survive.  The larger systems (Kansas City, Mid-Continent, St. Louis, St. Louis County,and Springfield-Greene County) have large enough tax bases they will be hurt the least.  Still, as quoted in a Library Journal article, ” R. Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the Kansas City Public Library, said his system stands to lose about $150,000 in state aid from an operating budget of approximately $16 million. That amount, he said, would be the equivalent of three or four librarians or roughly 15 percent of the materials budget.”  That places a prospective for the larger systems.  Smaller ones will be forced to reduce staff, hours, and/or materials budget if not close altogether.

Further down in the Library Journal article, Kemper is quoted as saying, “It shows the state’s not terribly interested in libraries.”  And this is true.  More time this legislative session was spent debating gay marriage, abortion, women’s rights, gun ownership rights, and other social issues that have already been decided at the national level.  Plus one legislator proposed a law that received which passed in the House that requires the Pledge of Allegiance to be said only in English and that it must be said daily in public schools.  Really, all of these in this day and age!?!

Why do the legislators not see Missouri’s public goods are important?  They cut funding to libraries.  Money is not there to repair the roads, especially Interstate 70, and bridges.  Many of those are in disrepair.  And only the main roads will be maintained-secondary roads no longer will be unless done so locally (read this article for more information).  On the bridges, the most recent list from March, 2015, says that “591 bridges, 24 of which are in the St. Louis region [are in poor condition], and MoDOT expects that number to reach 1,434 over the next 10 years. Three bridges have been closed so far with no plans to reopen.”  This will only worsen if nothing is done.  And in many public schools, universities, and colleges class sizes are growing too large for students to effectively learn since funds are not there for additional staff.  Some public schools have even cut art and band from their offerings and closed the library media centers.  Also many collegiate libraries have seen funding reduced, as I saw first-hand in regards to electronic resources during my graduate assistantship at Mizzou’s Ellis Libray.  Why does the legislature not try to find ways to fix these issues?

Honestly, I think this the same reason the federal government is no longer effective:  the two-party system.***  Both Democrats and Republicans cannot see past what their party wants to see what the people actually need.  That causes them to deadlock and not agree to anything expect to disagree on issues.  So here is my plea.  If you live in Missouri, write to your senators and representatives.  Let them know you are unhappy.  To look up your legislators and their contact information, follow this linkBeg for the return of funding; ask for a special session to reconsider the issue.  Let the government know you see libraries (and archives) as important.  Give examples of how libraries and their services and staff have affected you.  If you do not live in Missouri, do the same but to your legislators.  Now that one state has taken this drastic step, what is to say others will not follow their sample? If you live outside the United States, still take the time to remind your government about the importance of libraries (and archives); I know from following the library-world news that this is an issue in Canada and the United Kingdom for sure.

If you need a reminder of why libraries are important, check out my previous posts that address this issue:

Will you take the step to remind your legislators that libraries are important and fulfill many needs in the community?

*This is from the May 15, 2015 special edition newsletter.  This issue will eventually be added to the online archive.
**Personally, I’d rather have seen LSTA funding cut and the aid to public  libraries remain the same.  The grants funded through the program are mostly to add or update technology or to pay for conference travel for newer librarians.  Those are of lesser importance than keeping libraries open.  Granted in a perfect world, full funding for both would be available.
***I’m half tempted to write a whole post on two-party versus multiparty systems; it was covered in a lot of my political science undergraduate coursework.  Thoughts?

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