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Goodbye, state funding for California libraries

Berkeley Public Library, and the rest of California public libraries, no longer receive state funding.
Berkeley Public Library, and the rest of California public libraries, no longer receive state funding.

The bad news is that state funding for California libraries has been completely eliminated. There’s not really any good news about that except that it was expected. This past July, state library funding was sliced in half, and there was a trigger amendment attached to the budget that would eliminate state funding for public libraries at midyear if the state's revenue projections were not met. Needless to say, they weren’t.

Now libraries in the Bay Area, as in the rest of the state, will lose funding for literacy programs, InterLibrary Loans, and miscellaneous expenses such as librarian training programs and books. Libraries in rural areas will be hit the hardest because they receive more state funding than libraries in larger cities with larger budgets.

These cuts are not new. State funding for libraries has been dwindling for the past decade. The Public Library Fund, which provides direct state aid to public libraries for basic service, has never received its full appropriation from the Legislature since it began in 1983 (which was also the end of Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor). State funding lasted a little over twenty years.

The December 2011 monthly report from Berkeley Library Director Donna Corbeil reads, "There will be no immediate impact on the Library as this reduction was anticipated." Keep your eyes on the word immediate. “We’re still pretty concerned about how this will affect our libraries in the long term,” Corbeil said.

The next month’s report, from January 2012, states, "For the last two years as the state's budget situation worsened the Library set aside its Public Library Funds receipts as a temporary alternative funding source.”

In the 1999/2000 fiscal year, libraries received $56.8 million from the state. That was a good year. By the 2008/2009 year, libraries were only getting $12.9 million. That was a bad year, but, in retrospect, still pretty good. Libraries now get nothing.

Corbeil hopes that the California Library Association will help local librarians organize a campaign against the elimination in funding but says it’s not up to her to put out a call for action.

“We’re working on getting our funding back,” Carol Simmons, Executive Director of the California Library Association said. “We’ve had some successful campaigns. We were able to keep some state funding last year.” She says she is hopeful and feels like “the economy might be heading in the right direction.”

Due to the cuts, Oakland’s adult literacy program, Second Start, will get $65,000 less in state aid, according to Oakland Library Director Carmen Martinez. However, as had happened in Berkeley, money was found elsewhere, and the program will continue. “For this year, we’ve absorbed that loss through some savings,” Martinez said. “We use a lot of the state money we lost to buy books and supplies. So we’ll be talking about how to handle this loss in the next few months, but for now we’re just reshuffling some money around.”

Over at the Alameda Free Public Library, the Write to Read adult literacy Director Dr. Luis Kong said, “We knew this was going to happen.” Write to Read was spared from any cuts thanks to other grants. “Otherwise, we would have definitely had to let people go,” he said. Others in Write to Read also retired, helping the program save money. “Next year will definitely be an interesting year,” he said. It would be interesting, that is, to figure out where to get the lost funding.

“Doing the shuffle”, as in reshuffling funding, seems to be a common trend for most Bay Area libraries. But not all libraries know how to do that dance move, or, more importantly, they can’t afford to. The smaller the library, the more dependent the library is on state funding. Plumas County, for instance, is about the size of Delaware and has roughly 20,000 people. County librarian Margaret Miles has said that, without being reimbursed for InterLibrary loans, they won’t be able to afford exchanging books with other libraries – a practice that helps libraries with limited resources get more books.

“It’s so easy to get distracted,” said Corbeil about the state’s fiscal struggles. “Everyone has their eyes on all these other cuts, and it would be so easy for libraries to get slashed without anyone noticing until it’s too late.”

That time may have already come.