With No Check in the Mail, Illinois Cooperatives Lay Off Dozens

May 19, 2010

Illinois's nine library cooperatives are reeling from what Prairie Area Library System (PALS) Executive Director Michael Piper says may be the worst financial crisis in the state's history, "a game-changer." Already six months long, the wait for the state's overdue payments to libraries "will likely grow longer," Piper announced May 19, and "will probably persist over the next several years."

With 201 member libraries and three service centers in Coal Valley, Rockford, and Shorewood, PALS has received only 57% of its 2010 state funding, Piper said, and the administration is still working out details of what the necessary cuts will entail. "It will include staffing and service reductions," he said, noting that "Illinois systems have already released more than 50 staff, with more cuts to come."

"Amidst the budget crisis, systems have agreed to pare down to the bare essentials so we can get through this emergency and live to serve another day," Piper added.

Alliance Library System Executive Director Kitty Pope announced May 17 that due to the financial situation in Illinois, ALS will lay off 22 employees May 28 and dramatically reduce its core services, effective May 31. ALS provides centralized support to 255 libraries.

Among the services being eliminated are: continuing education and consulting, marketing and advocacy, innovation and grant development, and tech support. Core services will consist only of the delivery of materials, which currently accounts for more than 1 million items annually, and supporting resource sharing. Pope said Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center (MITBC) services will be suspended until such time as funding is reestablished.

"More than 80% of ALS funding originates from an annual grant from the Illinois General Assembly distributed through Secretary of State Jesse White's office," Pope said. "Library systems have not had a budget increase in more than 20 years, and last August, we received a 16½% budget cut. To date, ALS has not received 42% ($668,206) of the money owed to it for the fiscal year ending June 30. The talking book service has not received 97% of its annual funding ($252,618). ALS is almost out of money. Under these conditions, we cannot continue to offer our members the service they expect and deserve."

All ALS tech support staff and all consulting and continuing-education staff positions will be eliminated, Pope announced, and all MITBC staff will be on temporary layoff–meaning no salary or benefits, but the possibility of a recall. Talking book services will be suspended "until funding returns," Pope said, and ALS will attempt to streamline delivery without affecting the frequency. Management will focus on "assisting staff with applying for unemployment insurance, seeking alternate employment, investigating retraining/education options, and retirement procedures," Pope noted. "Our goal is to help every staff member find a soft landing."

Directed at "ALS family and friends," Pope's memo expressed profound gratitude but issued a dire warning: "You have done everything possible to help us turn this situation around. The ALS board, library members, staff, friends, and family have fought for our survival and rallied behind us on numerous occasions. Thank you for participating in our campaigns, contacting legislators, and supporting our cooperative efforts. Unfortunately, we have run out of options; the storm is upon us, and we are in survival mode. Other Illinois library systems are on different time lines as to when they will run out of money, but they are all in trouble. There is no safe harbor from this storm."

At the Rolling Prairie Library System, headquartered in Decatur, Executive Director Beverly J. Obert also announced May 19 that "in order to balance the FY11 budget and avoid staff layoffs, RPLS will be operating on a four-day workweek beginning July 1." The 172-member system will close on Mondays, and no system services, including delivery, will be available. Continuing education programs and training will continue, but on a reduced schedule.

Obert noted that Illinois cooperative systems directors, at their May 13 meeting, heard from Anne Craig, director of the Illinois State Library, "that the financial picture in Illinois is very dire.  There is no money! System funding has been vouchered to the Comptroller’s Office, but when it will be released is unknown. The State Library has a total of 1,277 vouchers being held in the Comptroller’s Office that total $24 million. This includes the Public and School Per Capita Grant awards. Ms. Craig instructed the library systems to focus on two services, delivery and LLSAP [Local Library System Automation Program]. If there is any money left, then other services can continue."

The 650-member North Suburban Library System, headquartered in Wheeling, sent out a similar announcement May 11 from Executive Director Sarah Ann Long. "I have sad but significant news," she said. "Due to our budget situation, NSLS will be dramatically scaling back programs and services effective May 30."

"We know van delivery service is the most important service for the majority of members," said Long. "We will take all necessary steps to preserve this service intact. But most other services and programs will be dramatically reduced, eliminated, or spun off. Many NSLS staffers will be laid off. I will be one of the people leaving. We are still working out the details but quick action is needed."

"As you can imagine, this was a very difficult decision to make," Long continued, "but I would not be fulfilling my responsibility as NSLS executive director or the system’s responsibility to our members as a whole if we did not take serious and immediate action to help preserve what is left of our budget. . . .  I am confident that we have done everything possible to turn this situation around. Unfortunately, we have run out of options."

At the Lewis and Clark Library System, headquartered in Edwardsville, Executive Director Tina Hubert announced a massive restructuring that calls for several layoffs and similar service cuts. "I have done everything I can to stabilize the system's fiscal abilities," Hubert said. "It is heartbreaking, however, to see what [we] have worked so hard to build being eroded due to the inability of the state to meet its appropriated obligations."

The big picture, Rolling Prairie Library System director Obert concluded, is that consolidation of services "must take place" and that "nine individual systems are no longer a sustainable option in Illinois." Explaining that discussions will continue "at an accelerated pace" between the state's five northern and four southern systems regarding "strategic restructuring or collaboration in combined services," she stated flatly, "If you are thinking merger, yes that is the term."



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