The effects of cutting library services

Published 7:00 am Friday, June 24, 2016

As a citizen of Mississippi, I understand that state government officials are tasked with maintaining a balanced budget and keeping spending in check during difficult economic times.
As Executive Director of the Mississippi Library Commission, I am truly concerned for communities across our state due to the outcome of the recent legislative session. Along with most other state agencies, the Library Commission has been forced to cut services for the citizens of Mississippi.
I understand that some may consider library services to be less important compared with those provided by our fellow state agencies. But let me pose these questions.
What will be the effect for residents of small towns with no other place to go but their local library to apply for jobs or file their taxes? The small library, perhaps currently open only a few days a week, may now have to close because of lack of funds to operate. Submitting job applications would become almost impossible. What about the children who have no other place to go to successfully complete homework, or find that book they need for a report, or use a public computer to prepare and print assignments? It will mean their grades, therefore their education will suffer.
The Library Commission’s appropriation bill and state statute include language that requires the agency to be responsible for sums expended for specific purposes. When a reduction is applied across the board to state agencies, the result to the Library Commission’s budget is skewed because of these mandated expenditures. By law, this agency is obligated to expend a specified amount annually for MAGNOLIA, online databases available to all Mississippians through their publicly funded institutions. The Library Commission is also bound to cover health insurance premiums for all public library employees working over twenty hours a week. These are mandated expenses; reductions in funding cannot be applied to these expenditures.
The MLC Board of Commissioners recently approved the agency budget for FY2017. Approval of this budget was met with great concern from the public library community because of the resulting significant cut to the Personnel Incentive Grant Program, which is intended to supplement local appropriation and other income. These grants allow MLC to assist local communities’ public libraries by providing support for salaries for personnel. With this loss in funding, jobs will most likely be cut.
We are fortunate to receive federal funds that are distributed to public libraries through evaluated grant programs. While these funds supplement budgets for books and materials, computers, library programs and outreach, they do require a specific percentage of state matching funds, which is also jeopardized by the loss in state funding.
It is a vicious cycle that will continue to spin, making the support we provide to Mississippi’s communities and libraries more at risk as time passes.
As state agency leaders assess the damage from the storm of this year’s session, there really is no silver lining. Recovery will take much longer than anyone realizes; the wake will be felt for years to come. In the meantime, we will do everything in our power to find ways to continue to provide necessary library services to all Mississippians. However nothing can take the place of supplementing a library’s local funding.
Some doors will close and services will be lost. Job seekers will be impacted, and students’ education will suffer. We will continue to do what we can with what we have, knowing there is so much more that should be done for all Mississippians.

By Susan Cassagne, Executive Director of the Mississippi Library Commission.

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