January 10, 2014

Texas’ appeal averts $6.5 million cut in federal library funding

The Institute of Museum and Library Services had threatened to reduce the state’s allotment after Texas slashed funding for statewide library services in 2011.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has won an appeal of a September decision by the Institute of Museum and Library Services that would have cut over $6.5 million in federal funds used to support statewide library services.

“This is very good news for us and Texas,” said Mark Smith, director of the library and archive commission which provides support for 560 libraries statewide.

The IMLS had threatened to reduce the federal funds after the Texas Legislature slashed the 2012-2013 budget for the library and archives commission by 64 percent.

The IMLS said in September that the state had failed to pull its own weight in library funding and that it would be cutting 67 percent of Texas’ annual allotment that averages nearly $10 million a year.

The IMLS found that the Legislature had cut funding for libraries more drastically than any other state service during the 2011 session when lawmakers were facing a $27 billion shortfall.

“With this decision we will receive our full allotment of federal money. How much that will be is not yet determined, in previous years it has been around $9.8 or $9.9 million,” Smith said Friday.

The award of the federal funds is dependent on the “maintenance of effort” in state funding for libraries, Smith said.

Cary Siegfried, Arlington’s director of libraries, said in November that Texas had failed to meet its obligations for clearly defined federal guidelines.

“I’m pleasantly surprised by the waiver,” she said Friday. “It sounds like the federal government feels like the state is turning things around. That could be good news for all of us.

“It may be one of those wake-up calls we all needed that the federal government means what they say that maintenance of effort is important,” Siegfried said.

Over the last several years, the Arlington library system has received $75,000 to $125,000 in grants funded by the federal dollars, she said. The funding has helped literacy programs and the operation of TechLiNK a mobile computer lab.

The library commission first applied for a waiver of the shortfall in state funds but that was denied. The IMLS then allowed the state to appeal.

In a letter this week from IMLS director Susan Hildreth, the agency approved the appeal based on the restoration of state funds in the 2014-2015 biennium.

“Once the state was in the position to take action to support the state’s library programs and services, it did so by restoring funding,” Hildreth wrote in the letter to Smith.

“Indeed, the agency received an increase of 64.46 percent in funding for the (state fiscal year) 2014/2015 biennium was greater than that provided to most other state agencies,” she said.

The cut in federal funding would have jeopardized the library commission’s statewide competitive grants program, its inter-library loan program and would have forced staff cuts that would have impacted the agency’s ability to consult with local libraries, Smith said Friday.

“IMLS allowed us a second appeal, and we’re grateful for that,” he said. “This gave us the opportunity to emphasize the restoration of state funds and how a cut to our federal funds would have put in jeopardy library programs that Texas libraries and library users rely on.”

‘Good faith effort’

Smith said what really mattered to the IMLS was that state funding had been restored.

“What got this back was a good faith effort of the Legislature when they had money again to make that investment in libraries,” he said.

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

Smith noted that typically, state aid to local libraries only amounts to about 5 percent of their total budget.

“But that’s 5 percent that is frequently used by libraries as an opportunity to provide innovative services to do things. Losing it would have had a strategic impact,” he said.

Hildreth’s letter emphasized that the state must maintain it’s share of support for libraries.

She noted that waivers are permitted in very rare situations.

“While we have approved a one-time waiver ... it is imperative that you monitor state funding for library services to ensure that federal funds enhance and do not replace state support,” Hildreth wrote.

Smith said the library commission will continue to work with lawmakers to strengthen the state’s support of libraries.

“We’ve made progress in that direction, but there is more to be done. It’s going to be really important as we move forward to keep that number up there,” he said.

“We probably won’t get this chance again.”

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