As state legislators work to fix a projected $2.8 billion budget hole before the 2010 legislative session ends in March, the Washington State Library is in the crosshairs.
Gov. Gregoire’s budget proposal would ax $2 million from the State Library, resulting in 31 full-time or part-time workers losing their jobs, according to Secretary of State Sam Reed and State Librarian Jan Walsh.
“The Governor’s budget plan would wipe out one-third of our current staff, which would be devastating for our library and seriously affect our capacity to help the citizens of Washington and our public libraries,” said Walsh. “People turn to our services when times are hard.”
“I realize we face a tough budget crisis now, but the State Library already has had more than its share of cuts over the past decade while most state agencies have seen their budgets grow,” said Reed. “These latest cuts to the library are penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
A HUB FOR SERVICES
Walsh said the State Library offers important services for vulnerable citizens, including the visually impaired and those who are out of work or struggling to cope during the tough economy.
“People use libraries most when times are hardest,” Walsh explained. “They’ll visit their library to use a computer to work on a resume or to search for jobs. They’ll use their library to research information related to a new career or something else important. Our State Library helps provide direct resources to our patrons and our local libraries so they can better serve the public.”
In response to Washington’s sluggish economy and high unemployment rate, the State Library last year created the “Hard Times Resource Guide.” It is a publicly accessible, statewide resource targeted to the state’s vulnerable populations. The Web site — http://www.sos.wa.gov/library.hardtimes — features resources in one location. The guide serves the unemployed by helping them locate jobs, gain new skills and seek out educational opportunities so they can find fulfilling work in Washington. Users can find thoroughly researched information on unemployment, housing and homelessness, health and sustenance, and finances.
The State Library also has created and manages the “Renew Washington” project to enable libraries throughout Washington to respond to their patrons’ unemployment needs. There are grant projects focusing on specific community hardships that allow residents to learn basic computer skills; locate job opportunities, prepare resumes and improve interview skills; complete online job applications; file for unemployment benefits; start and grow small businesses; and retool for a new career with free training materials, educational opportunities and trainings.
BUDGET CUTS COME AT A TIME WHEN NEEDS FOR LIBRARY SERVICES RISE
The State Library, which is a division of the Office of Secretary of State, is facing heavy cuts just as needs for its services are the greatest, Reed said.
“Over the past decade, the State Library has seen an amazing increase in usage by the public, both in person and online,” Reed said. “The State Library not only serves the Legislature and state government, but also the general public and the network of public libraries across Washington.
“During the Great Depression, government didn’t ignore history and culture, but supported and increased it,” Reed added. “We shouldn’t stop being stewards of our state’s collections and cultural heritage during these tough budget times.”
According to Reed, the State Library has experienced a surge in usage from 2002 to 2009:
— Number of visitors up 22 percent (370,328 to 451,865);
— Number of books checked out up 78.6 percent (648,487 to 1,157,992); and
— Web site usage up an 1,569.6 percent (33,827 hits to 564,787).
In addition, patrons last year used the State Library’s online history books 427,026 times and online newspapers on 124,791 occasions.
LIBRARY CUTS WHILE OTHER AGENCIES EXPAND
Walsh noted that the State Library has endured significant budget and staff cuts since 1999, while most state agencies have seen their budgets increase during this period.
“If the Governor’s budget cuts remain in place, we will have seen our budget cut by more than a third and our staff level slashed by more than half since 1999. We’ve already been run through the budget wringer more than once, and these proposed cuts would be especially brutal for us and the services we provide to our customers around the state,” Walsh said.
These latest proposed cuts would impact the library’s reference desk, the acquisition and cataloguing of material and preservation of old newspapers, noted Walsh. It also would mean cuts to the braille staff and other positions, including the lone children’s librarian, at the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library in Seattle.
“Cuts in these positions would mean longer response times for our customers and less preservation work of old newspapers, which are valuable for students, historians and genealogists,” Walsh said. If these proposed cuts become reality, she added, they could also jeopardize federal grant funding for several programs that benefit local libraries throughout Washington.
“If the latest budget cuts stick, many local libraries would be hurt at a time when their own budgets are shaky and they’re facing greater demand,” Reed said.
Walsh added the forced move of the State Library in 2001 from the Joel Pritchard Building on the Capitol Campus to a building in Tumwater has resulted in much higher building-related expenses. The State Library’s rent and utility costs were less than $800,000 during the 1999-2001 fiscal biennium, which was 4 percent of the total library budget. The rent and utility costs for the current biennium top $2 million, eating up 18 percent of the library’s budget.
To learn more about the proposed budget cuts, visit http://www.sos.wa.gov/library/StateLibraryBudgetCuts.aspx .