Public libraries are incredibly important in economic bad times. Things people just bought for themselves without thinking, they now borrow if they can. People need emergency assistance with housing or medical or childcare and they don’t know how to find an appropriate agency or charity. People are looking for jobs and need assistance finding listings and to use the computer to fill out the application or complete a resume. Even people with jobs and computers might not be able to afford internet access and so come to use the free wireless or computers.
Public library funding depends on where you are. A very small portion comes from the federal government and private organizations. The majority comes from state and local taxes (somewhat dated source says 90%). I seem to remember my local public library got only 30% of its funding from the state, but I can’t find a citation for that now. In Maryland, most of our public libraries are county systems. As go the property taxes, so go the libraries as county agencies. Maryland, in general, is probably doing better than other states, but there are massive gaps. Libraries are really valued in Maryland, so they are cut later, but there is only so much that can be done.
Here are some of the steps I’m seeing public libraries take:
- shortening hours open, not opening in the evening, not opening on Sunday
- collections budgets are slashed, things with subscriptions are not being renewed (fewer multiple-year contracts in public libraries, from what I can tell), fewer books being purchased (reference books being held for longer, no new editions except for medical, fewer copies of popular books)
- hiring freezes
- furloughs (5-10 days)
- library closing on holidays like Columbus Day when they were typically open
- some reductions in force, layoffs, or firings
- short staffing desks (to you people who have no freakin’ clue why this matters – come to my county sometime and watch the lines at the desk)
- taking away age-level specialists to move them to generalist positions
Facility renovations are usually capital funds. The catalog can be capital funding because it’s so expensive. So these things are in a separate pool. Sure, there are grants, but you can hardly run a system on grants – regardless of what anyone tells you.
What have I forgotten?