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System Director’s Report:

August 2008

So far this budget season, two member libraries have asked our help as they write letters explaining the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement to funding bodies proposing substantial cuts in their budgets for next year. It happens every year. SCLS staff, usually Cheryl Becker, helps review letters and sometimes assigns ball-park values for system services that would be lost if a library fails to meet MOE. Wis. Stat. 43.15(4)(c)(5) specifies libraries must receive funding from the municipality at a level that is not lower than the average of the last three years in order to maintain their membership in SCLS. That means some libraries have a fight just to stay even. Other libraries are facing budget cuts for next year that, though very serious, still keep them within the basic MOE requirement.

These difficult budgets negotiations are happening at a time when citizens are using our libraries like never before. July reports show libraries on the LINK network have a circulation increase of more than 5% compared to last year at this time. Summer library reading program participation rates reached new highs. And people are using library Internet connections in record numbers. The public supports libraries and uses the services they provide.

Here is an example of the difference additional funds can make in library services. With two-year grants from the Madison Community Foundation, 12 Dane County libraries each received extra funds to enrich their collections in targeted subjects. Just past half-way into the project, Vicki Teal Lovely of our Automation staff shared some statistics on that program. At that point, libraries had purchased 7,437 items, which had been checked out by the public more than 42,000 times. There were 2,614 titles added that were unique to the shared LINKcat collection, and these items had more than 3,600 holds (people waiting their turn to use them). As positive as these numbers are, it’s important to remember that grants and one-time funds cannot be counted on to operate libraries.

So, if the public supports libraries, and libraries demonstrably know how to make any money that comes their way into good service, why are they perpetually underfunded? There is a “disconnect” between the people who support and use libraries and those who make the decisions about library funding. As someone said at our last Board meeting, even in bad economic times, there seems to be enough money for the projects that decision makers want to fund.

So, what can we do? Let’s count out silently wringing our hands as unproductive and ultimately unsatisfying. I am convinced that if we all take action, together we can make a difference. Library supporters and advocates need to bring the needs of libraries to decision makers at all levels of government during this budget season. Whether as library trustees, Friends, volunteers, or library staff and families, if each of us made just two contacts with our elected representatives voicing the importance of library funding for our lives and our communities, we could get better 2009 library budgets. At least it couldn’t hurt.

That’s my $.02 worth. I will see you on the 8th.