It’s Not Over Till the Final Check Clears

October 14, 2009

It’s autumn—that time of year when a library official’s fancy turns to thoughts of the next fiscal year. At least that’s what should happen, unless said library official is beleaguered by the specter of revenue-projection shortfalls that could erode carefully laid plans for the current fiscal year.

Truth be told, library officials who aren’t feeling beleaguered this fall are the exception rather than the rule. In at least three states—Connecticut, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—one can’t help but wonder whether the legislative horse trading done to balance the budget will end before FY2010 does.

After enduring a budget battle that ended 101 days beyond the July 1 start of FY2010 in a loss of almost $25 million, weary Pennsylvania library advocates began making lemonade from the $68.3 million in state support that was left for libraries for FY2010—a 26.7% cut from the $94.6 million appropriated in FY2009. The fiscal bloodletting could have been much worse; in July, the state Senate had passed a bill slashing library aid by 55%. Glenn Miller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association, astutely observed, “There are a number of moving pieces—companion bills—that also make up the overall state budget. This includes a bill (or bills) to raise revenues and bills that spell out in more detail how money in the budget is to be spent. I note this only to point out that some other key votes also take place that affect the makeup of an overall state budget.”

In Connecticut, it seemed at summer’s end that lawmakers were more readily heeding the call of their constituents and maintaining library support at last year’;s funding levels. But Gov. Jodi Rell turned the tables at the end of the summer by announcing that state agencies would have to absorb a total of $473 million in “outside vendor” holdbacks—a fiscal legerdemain in which the state doesn’t distribute expected payments even though it hasn’t actually reduced appropriations. In the case of the Connecticut Library Consortium, the sudden $950,000 blow to statewide resource sharing meant the abrupt discontinuation September 30 of InfoAnytime, a popular 24/7 online reference service that brings access to 162 public and academic libraries, as well as the iCONN digital library. Connecticut Library Association President Randi Ashton-Pritting responded with a September 29 letter to Gov. Rell that asks for library-vendor contracts to be exempted from the directive. On another front, former CLA president Carl A. Antonucci, Jr. told American Libraries, “We are still fighting to have the [state] Office of Policy Management restore what has been cut.”

The fight for libraries’ survival continues in Michigan as well, where funding for the statewide library book and electronic material-sharing programs has gotten caught in a budget standoff between Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the legislature. Despite her September 9 Executive Order amendment to prioritize funding for the Michigan eLibrary (MeL) and Michigan eLibrary Catalog (MeLCat), Gov. Granholm signed into law October 12 a 40% cut to to libraries’ $10-million resource-sharing budget, although she urged lawmakers to “find the funding for libraries.” The $4-million loss at the state level is expected to trigger the withholding of another $4 million in federal aid to libraries.

Let the strategizing begin

Before the budget ink was dry, determined library communities were strategizing about how to regain their collective buying power. Shortly after legislators passed the 40% cut out of committee, Michigan Library Association Executive Gretchen Courand told the September 29 Lansing State Journal that the association was considering a lawsuit to force the state to abide by a statute mandating that the Library of Michigan receive $1.50 per person annually for library resource sharing; according to Courand, the $6 million for FY2010 amounts to approximately 60 cents per person. Connecticut librarians issued a call in the Connecticut Library Consortium’s October newsletter to colleagues interested in “a cost-sharing proposition” to save InfoAnytime. As for the Keystone State, PaLA’s Glenn Miller told American Libraries he was analyzing “how far you can stretch $3 million to cover $11.1 million of resource-sharing services.”



The Back Page – Book Release Party

"The Back Page," a compendium of Bill Ott's popular Booklist magazine column of the same name, gets feted at this celebration outside of the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. Time Out Chicago's Frank Sennett hosts and zealous fans provide heartfelt testimonials. Buy the book at