Texas public libraries face 70% cut in federal funding

Posted Friday, Nov. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Texas is finding out that you have to pay to play when it comes to federal funding for public libraries.

Two years ago, when Texas was confronting a $27 billion budget shortfall, state lawmakers chain-sawed the 2012-13 funding for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by 64 percent.

Now that cut may be creating an even more dire financial problem for libraries.

Since the state isn’t meeting its mandated share of funding, the federal government is threatening to cut nearly 70 percent of its annual funding for Texas public libraries, saying the state has failed to pull its own weight.

“It does kind of hit us with a double whammy,” said Mark Smith, director of the commission, which provides support for 560 libraries statewide.

The federal reductions could be felt across the spectrum but will be particularly tough for smaller facilities, North Texas library directors say.

Cecilia Barham, director of the North Richland Hills library, said a reduction in federal subsidies has the potential to “impact everything we do.”

Federal money is allocated by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through its Library Services and Technology Act grants, which are intended to supplement state funding. Texas libraries receive an average of $10 million per fiscal year in LSTA grants, but federal cuts would reduce that to $3 million starting in 2015, Smith said.

In a Sept. 30 letter to the Library and Archives Commission, Maura Marx, deputy director of the federal Office of Library Services, said the cuts were made because Texas has neglected to fund its own libraries. States are required to demonstrate a “maintenance of effort” of public libraries, Marx wrote, to ensure that federal funds “supplement, rather than replace, State funds.”

The federal agency found that the Texas Legislature had cut funding for libraries more drastically than for other state services in 2011, a violation of the requirements for federal funding.

The loss of the federal funds would create “the necessity to curtail several programs,” including a $1.5 million competitive grant program and the interlibrary loan program, Smith said.

Public libraries receive state and federal funding, and many in Texas supplement that with local tax dollars, gifts from charitable foundations and corporate sponsorship.

“We have already all been hit hard, but small libraries have been hit hardest,” said Lisa Harper Wood, director of the Richland Hills library. “The cuts have had a huge impact on how we do business.”

The state cuts have forced the library to reach out to friends groups and ask the City Council for more money, Wood said.

“Fortunately, they are stepping up to help, but we don’t have the resources we’ve had in the past,” she said.

Librarians are especially concerned about the possible loss of funding for TexShare Databases and the interlibrary loan program, Barham said.

“Those subsidies allow us to have access to broader collections that we could never house,” she said, noting that her patrons use the loan program hundreds of times a month.

The TexShare Databases equalize access to information across the state, said Cathy Ziegler, director of the Plano library.

“The person that lives in Plano and the person that lives in Marfa has equal access to this information,” Ziegler said. “It’s irreplaceable.”

Small libraries hit

Those services are especially crucial for small-town libraries, said Kathy Ramsey, director of the library in Aubrey, a community of 2,500.

“Small libraries struggle to get their lights fixed or keep the buildings clean. If we had to try and justify local funding for databases, it’s just not going to happen,” she said.

“For over 20 years, our library has relied on state and federal funding for our collection development, so the majority of the books we now have were based on that funding,” Ramsey said, noting that the only way Aubrey can participate in the library loan program is through the state and federal subsidies.

The Library and Archives Commission will appeal the federal decision, said Smith, who just started on the job Nov. 1, replacing longtime director Peggy Rudd, who retired last year.

Smith said that the Legislature restored about 85 percent of the funding for the state library in 2014-15 and that he hopes federal officials will consider that.

“We’re going to make a couple of additional arguments with them at the end of November. There’s still a chance. We’ll light some candles,” he said.

But Cary Siegfried, director of libraries in Arlington, said that states have to pay to play and that Texas hasn’t been pulling its weight.

“The guidelines from the federal government are very clear, and the state of Texas hasn’t been meeting that guideline,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t think the federal government should give us a waiver.”

In the last couple of years, the Arlington library has received $75,000 to $125,000 in LSTA grants, she said.

“Arlington has made wonderful use of those grants,” Siegfried said, noting that the funds have helped pay for literacy programs and for the operation of TechLiNK, a mobile computer lab that provides free computer training and Internet access to areas where public computers and broadband Internet are scarce.

‘Drastic cut’

Adam Wright, the Fort Worth library system’s assistant director for public services, agrees that Texas has not done its share.

“It’s pretty clear-cut: You either meet the maintenance effort or you don’t. The state of Texas has decided that it doesn’t want to necessarily pay for services of libraries, and because of that, we are facing less federal funds,” Wright said.

“When we first got cut two years ago, we brought this to the attention of the state Legislature that if we had this drastic cut, that most likely in two to three years the federal government would pull back their funds,” he said.

“But I don’t think anyone thought it would be 70 percent,” he said, adding that the losses for the Fort Worth system won’t be catastrophic but will have an impact.

“We have a budget of $18 million, so whatever the losses we have, we can deal with it. For the little libraries, it could be a lot more significant,” Wright said.

The federal funds are tied to three-year averages of state funding, so this won’t be a one-and-done fight.

“We will have to go through this again next year,” Smith said.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp

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