Information Update - Spring 2004

State Budget Cuts Felt by Libraries

Despite nearly nine months of intensive lobbying, letter writing, and personal contacts with legislators throughout the state, efforts by the Pennsylvania Library Association, library staff, and patrons failed to convince Governor Rendell to reinstate drastic state cuts to public libraries for 2003. $10.1 million of the original $37.5 million cut of state aid to public libraries in Pennsylvania was restored on December 22, leaving library directors throughout the state with a tremendous shortfall for books, salaries, and operating expenses in the coming fiscal year. Rationalizing that all need to sacrifice in this year of extraordinary budget shortfalls, Rendell and the legislators restored 90% of the funds that had originally been eliminated for human services programs, such as mental health, and drug and alcohol programs, basically leaving libraries as their primary target for cost reducing efforts.

The effect of the cuts has already been felt in Lackawanna County. More than twenty staffers received lay-off notices during the week of Thanksgiving, and materials budgets are reflected in the number of bestsellers, reference materials, and services, such as the popular Books-by-Mail program, which delivers library materials to the blind and shut-ins. Patrons have already seen fewer inter-library loan deliveries and longer waits for requested titles. Learn-a-Test, a computer software program designed to help patrons practice for civil service and trade positions, has been eliminated from the Albright’s reference department’s terminals.
Other public libraries throughout the state are faced with the similar budget constraints. The Free Library of Philadelphia has frozen new book and periodical purchases and has cut Saturday hours in many of its 55 branches. The Bucks County Free Library has cuts its materials budget in half and up to 20 workers have been furloughed.

Due to the eleventh hour approval of the budget, state monies usually distributed at the beginning of January are still in question. Local library directors are taking a wait and see attitude, not cutting checks for the money until official notification is received. The Pennsylvania Library Association has already begun the process of working with officials in the Education Department to develop new rationales for restoring full funding in the next budget, with the hopes that this year’s catastrophic cut can be a one-time anomaly.

Betsey Moylan