They're normally a quiet bunch, but about 250 librarians from all corners of the state made some noise Wednesday at the Texas Capitol as they tried to head off looming budget cuts that would virtually eliminate state support for public libraries.
"If these programs are not funded, then it will affect every community, every school and every institution of higher education in the state," said Gloria Meraz, communications director for the Texas Library Association.
The cutbacks could mean reduced access to TexShare, a mammoth database service available in 677 libraries, and to a K-12 database provided for 4.5 million Texas schoolchildren and 500,000 educators.
"If the Fort Worth Public Library had to negotiate for the TexShare database on their own, it would cost $2 million a year," said Peggy Rudd, director of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Also targeted for elimination is funding for TexNet Interlibrary Loan programs and Loan Star Library Grants, which provides money to extend hours and other services.
In 2010, the Loan Star program contributed $142,210 to the Fort Worth library system, said Rudd, noting that the city's system considered closing two branches last year to save money.
Overall, the budget for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, which handles distribution of funds to public libraries and maintains state records and historical materials, would be reduced from $71.5 million in 2010-2011 to $48.3 million in 2012-13, Rudd said.
Of that, $26 million supports statewide library programs such as databases and loan programs, and $5 million funds initiatives for public schools. Those cuts would result in the additional loss of about $8 million in federal matching funds, she said.
"This will be devastating," said Rudd, who notes that library usage has skyrocketed during the lean economic times, with Texans making nearly 80 million visits to libraries in 2009, up 7 percent from 2008.
"We're going backwards to a time when Texas was one of only a handful of states that didn't provide any support for public libraries," she said.
Steve Brown, director of the North Richland Hills Library, said the impact would be far-reaching. "Basically, this will undo 40 years of library development in this state in one stroke," he said.
State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, introduced resolutions supporting libraries. "It completely decimates programs that have been in place for decades. It's alarming in the extreme," said Anchia, a child of two immigrants who learned English by going to public libraries with his mother.
The biggest impact for local facilities would be the elimination of $8 million that funds TexShare databases, librarians say.
"We pay around $3,000 for 50 databases, which if we had to license ourselves would cost $178,000-plus," Brown said.
House and Senate budget proposals suggest that the costs for TexShare would be recouped by raising fees by 158 percent, Rudd said.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981