by Loumarie I. Rodriguez and Mike Preato | Posted: Wednesday, May 6, 2015 6:00 am
HARTFORD – The past few months have been full of debate over proposed changes, cuts and additions to the state’s biennial budget, and state funding for libraries has been a major concern for residents, library staff and elected officials.
In February, Gov. Dannel Malloy released his biennial budget proposal, comprising a $19.7 billion budget in 2016 and a $20.3 billion budget in 2017.
The budget proposal included $3,578,006 in cuts to the state’s library budget.
Comparing Gov. Malloy’s proposed cuts to the current year’s budget, his proposal removed $950,000 in funding for Connecticard, $315,875 from the Connecticut Library Consortium, $193,391 in grants to public libraries, $1,947,265 from the Connecticut Humanities Council and $171, 475 from the Computer Access Program for both 2016 and 2017.
After hearing about the cuts, libraries across the state went into a panic, recognizing that these cuts would completely defund the listed programs and devastate residents’ ability to access books and materials from neighboring libraries.
Connecticard allows Connecticut residents to borrow books, movies and other materials from any library in the state.
The program also allows people to return books and other printed works to any other library, which will then pass them along to the library that owns those books.
In 2014, more than 4.5 million books and other materials were loaned using the Connecticard system, accounting for more than 15 percent of library loans.
The Connecticut Library Consortium is the organization through which many of the state’s libraries purchase their books, using bulk-order discounts to reduce costs.
According to Woodbury Public Library Director Pat Lunn, the CLC saves the state’s libraries a total of $7.1 million annually by coordinating purchases. Cuts to the CLC’s funding would hamper its ability to continue its work.
Ms. Lunn noted that within a six-month span, using the CLC has helped the Woodbury Public Library save $11,420 when purchasing book and other materials.
The grants to public libraries help fund programs or purchases local libraries might not otherwise be able to afford.
Ms. Lunn said that in her case, library grants are one of the many things that help cover the costs of programs that are not funded by the municipal budget.
State Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-69, called the proposed budget unreasonable and said state libraries are a vital asset for the people of Connecticut, providing educational resources to people who cannot afford Internet access.
“I have received some communication from residents regarding the budget cuts, but people don’t believe it’s real,” said Rep. O’Neill. “They are waiting for legislature to change it.”
Rep. O’Neill said he feels the governor’s priorities are misplaced and there are other items that could be cut instead.
“Alexander the Great said civilizations have always been based on the library they possessed,” Oxford First Selectman George Temple said, speaking to the proposed cuts. “That is what he built in Alexandria.”
“It’s no different today,” Mr. Temple continued, saying that he wished Gov. Malloy would reconsider the cuts.
Sandra Neary, director at Bridgewater’s Burnham Library, called the cuts devastating, saying there is already sparse staffing within the system and what Gov. Malloy is proposing will make things very difficult.
State Sen. Rob Kane, R-32, said he disagrees with Gov. Malloy’s proposal because it made drastic cuts at the expense of state employees.
Sen. Kane added that libraries are a great resource for communities and a great place for social events.
Martie Smokla, head of circulation at Washington Gunn Memorial Library, said the library will not be able to provide all materials for its patrons if the cuts take place.
The library is constantly using the inter-library loan system to send out materials only the Gunn Memorial Library has, said Ms. Smokla.
“A large portion of my job consists of using the Connecticard system,” Ms. Smokla noted.
“The library is currently running a campaign to inform patrons of the budget cuts to the library. We have posters, flyers and even bookmarks inside the books to inform patrons.”
But not all of the proposed budget changes appear to be bad news for the state’s libraries; the budget also proposed allocating $12 million towards constructing new public libraries over the next two years.
Additionally, there is a proposal to spend $3.6 million to fund high speed connections to the Connecticut Education Network.
On Wednesday, April 15, there was a Library Rally at the state capital where several state representatives, librarians and residents expressed their disapproval with the cuts to libraries’ funding.
People were asked to contacts their state senators and representatives to explain why the libraries needed to be funded, and it seems their voices may have been heard.
Much to the joy of librarians, the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee recently released its budget proposal of $19.9 billion and $20.6 billion for 2016 and 2017, respectively.
The committee countered the governor’s budget with proposal to cut only $175,875 from the state libraries’ budget, removing $50,000 from Connecticard, and $125,875 from the Connecticut Library Consortium.
The proposal leaves the funding for grants to public libraries, the Connecticut Humanities Council and the Computer Access Program the same as the current year’s amount.
While political parties and officials will clash over the next few weeks to negotiate a budget which Gov. Malloy, the state house and senate find agreeable, whether library funding will end up on the chopping block is a question that has left both officials and residents nervous.