Friday, May 29, 2009

Strong libraries equal strong communities

A great letter written by Mark Pumphrey, director of the Polk County Public Library and president of the North Carolina Public Library Directors Association, to all 92 members of the N.C. House Appropriations Committee.

Dear Representatives:

I am writing to all of you rather than just my own district representative because the decision you make regarding State Aid to Public Libraries will affect not just my own county's public library, but every public library system in North Carolina.

I understand that cuts recommended by state departments place all grant programs into a group, and that State Aid to Public Libraries falls within that group of grant programs. There are compelling reasons for making public libraries an exception in the decision to cut all grant programs:

1. Public libraries are the great equalizer in every local community. Many of the other programs under scrutiny affect only a segment of the population. Some programs within the Department of Cultural Resources are exclusive because they require the price of admission and are often at a distance from where you are living in the state. But public libraries are everywhere you are in the state, and they are available for your use no matter what your circumstances are or what you can afford.

2. Now is not the time to cut public libraries. It is the time to support public libraries more than ever before. Citizens who are displaced from their jobs and/or looking for work are coming to the public libraries more than ever before to find job search resources.

With leadership (but insignificant funding) from the Governor, DCR, the Department of Commerce and the Employment Security Commission, public libraries across the state are responding to this need by creating Job Search Centers at the state's public libraries. In addition to job searching, citizens are coming to the library to prepare resumes, to take certification tests online, and to receive job counseling in a neutral setting by the staff of our local partners such as JobLink.

In my county, the public library has partnered with JobLink and the county's Economic Development Commission to provide space for a JobLink office at the public library. We are also collecting resources and information for entrepreneurs and business people at the public library. Similar things are happening at public libraries all across the state.

Also, because our citizens have less disposable income in the current economy for the purchase of books, computer resources and tickets to public events, public libraries in North Carolina are seeing a profound increase in the numbers of citizens coming to the library to take advantage of the books, audiovisuals, periodicals, computer resources, and public programs and performances they can access at the public library at no cost.

3. Strong public libraries equal strong local communities that can attract new industries or other economic development. In states such as Ohio and Wisconsin, where State Aid to Public Libraries is strong, public libraries are the best in the country. One of the first things prospective new companies assessing a county look at before making their decision to locate in the county is the quality of the local public library system.

4. Our county governments will not make up the difference. Because of the number of mandated safety, health and emergency services provided by counties, quality of life departments within county governments, such as public libraries, are almost always given lower priority and are often the first to be cut at the local level.

5. Public libraries are not a problem to be dealt with, as are so many issues facing our state and local governments. Rather, they are an important part of the solution to many of the root cause issues that swallow up so many of our public funds.

With better workforce preparedness, literacy training, and informal educational opportunities that public libraries can and do provide, North Carolina will get through the current economic downturn and come out stronger than ever. But if after a number of years of minimal increases or status quo funding of State Aid to Public Libraries, we now suffer our biggest loss of state funding in history, our services will be not just diminished but seriously damaged.

6. DCR has this week been successful in getting delayed State Aid payments that were being withheld for the month of May released, and I am grateful for the department's efforts. But the allocations for June are still in jeopardy. If the June allocations are withheld, some of our regional library systems in the state will be unable to meet payroll in June. Others have said that if cut in the upcoming year, there will be no funding in their budgets for books and other materials.

In the last few months of the current fiscal year, we have already lost 10% of the State Aid originally allocated to us--and some of us are being told by our county governments to absorb the 10% loss by making cuts to the rest of our remaining budget, causing us to be forced to eliminate items already approved at the beginning of the fiscal year in our local budgets. So, in effect, we are being cut twice each time our State Aid allocation is reduced.

In closing, I ask that you not only reduce this percentage cut, but eliminate it altogether.

North Carolina is on the road to economic recovery. Public libraries can play a critical role in making that happen, if the funding we now receive through State Aid to Public Libraries is protected. I implore you to reverse the recommendation from DCR and any subsequent recommendations reflecting their recommendation.

Thank you.

Mark Pumphrey
North Carolina Public Library Directors Association

1 comment:

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