Public Libraries Scrambling to Stay Afloat

May 04, 2009 06:08 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Florida public libraries were nearly cut off from state funding this week, while other states’ libraries are attempting to redefine themselves for a growing patron base.

Tables Turn for Florida Libraries

On May 1, Florida Today reported that public libraries in Florida would lose all state funding due to negotiations in the House and Senate, marking “the first time since 1962” that Florida would not financially support libraries. Library directors expressed fear of layoffs, particularly at rural branches.

At the time, Faye Roberts, the executive director of the Florida Library Association, told Florida Today, “Devastated is not the word ... Libraries will close.”

But just a few days later, lawmakers in Florida “restored funding for state libraries.” The funding was lowered to $21.2 million, which is down from the previous budget of $25 million, but meets “the threshold amount” required to receive $8 million in federal funding, according to the Suwannee Democrat.
Other libraries around the United States may not be so lucky. In Franklin, Ohio, four full-time employees of the Franklin-Springboro Public Library were laid off, while every part-time employee had hours halved. The budget cuts were made during a meeting of the library board on April 2, and followed state funding cuts.

Director of the Franklin-Springboro Public Library, Anita Carroll, told the Dayton Daily News, “The scary part is we don’t know where it’s going to end. Today I can’t tell you how much money we’ll have in June.”

Other libraries are taking alternative measures to become multifaceted and more appealing to patrons. For example, in Pembroke, Mass., the Pembroke Public Library has teamed up with a film distributor called Film Movement to screen “award-winning independent and foreign films while they are still in the theater” at the library, according to The Patriot Ledger. Patrons have the opportunity to see newly released films screened at festivals like Cannes and Sundance in the comfort of their local library.

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Related Topic: The recession’s impact on libraries

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the effects of the economic downturn on public libraries in March, pointing out that in tough times, “libraries fill in for financial planners, career counselors, technical educators, coffee shops, Blockbuster, Barnes & Noble and, yes, even baby sitters.” In the past six months, the number of new patrons and library cardholders has “exploded,” but state funding has dwindled. “Rural libraries, which can’t fall back on funding from small local governments, will be the hardest hit and could face hiring freezes, staff cuts or shortened hours,” the newspaper reported.

Background: Libraries see more patrons, less funding

Last December, findingDulcinea reported on the double-edged sword of the impact of poor economic times on libraries: people head to libraries to save money on books and Internet access, but libraries are often targeted by cities and counties that are trying to make budget cuts. Many libraries have reported an increase in patronage as the economy worsens: There has been increased demand for library movie rentals and for children’s activities, such as story hour.

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