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Libraries in Crisis: What Budget Cuts Mean for CA Libraries

Feb 18, 2011

With California facing an urgent budget crisis, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed drastic funding cuts across the board. At the top of the chopping block are California libraries, which are expected to see a 100 percent cut in state funding. Library advocates fear that this will mean the end of many essential services.

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By Megan Driscoll

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Proposed Budget Slashes Library Funding

States and local governments all over the country have been scrambling to address budget deficits since the economic crash. Chicago leased its parking meters to private investors. Arizona sold several state buildings. And California's public university system saw such dramatic funding cuts that it set off a round of student protests.

Now public libraries may be joining universities on the growing list of education-related programs that are being crippled by California's budget crisis.

In January, newly re-elected Governor Jerry Brown, who is back for an unusual third term, released his 2011-12 budget proposal. Among the many staggering cuts is the total elimination of state funding for the Public Library Foundation, the California Library Literacy and English Acquisition Service and Transaction Based Reimbursement, totaling $30.4 million.

Commentators have described Governor Brown's proposal as a 'shock and awe' budget, designed to cut programs in a manner that will be felt by all citizens. The goal is to inspire middle class voters to come out in June to vote for a revenue-raising ballot proposal. But, according to the California Library Association (CLA), the library cuts would not be backfilled with this additional revenue.

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Essential Services Face Deep Cuts

In a response to the budget proposal issued last month, Paymaneh Maghsoudi, CLA President and Director of the Whittier Public Library, pointed out that these cuts come on the heels of years of library funding reductions. Since the early 2000s, over 75% of funds for the programs listed above have been eliminated. This latest round of cuts will mean yet another loss of library staff, a potentially deep reduction in library hours and limited availability of books and other materials.

Maghsoudi points out that, in this difficult economic time, libraries perform many essential functions. They provide Internet access for job-seeking adults, books and homework assistance for K-12 students in struggling schools and essential community education such as free credit repair workshops. Cuts in library hours and staff will necessarily mean a reduction in these services.

Furthermore, libraries may be forced to end the decades-old Transaction Based Reimbursement (TBR) program, which is a statewide cooperative system for borrowing and loaning books. This is due in part to the fact that the state cuts to the TBR budget are so large that the program may be ineligible for the federal matching funds it has previously received.

Finally, the cuts to the California Library Literacy and English Acquisition Service are also expected to have a dramatic effect. According to Maghsoudi, more than 20,000 adult learners accessed this literacy program in just one year. In addition to English language learners, the program serves native English speakers who simply never learned to read. By cutting this service, the government will be putting up yet another economic obstacle in front of adults and their families who are struggling due to illiteracy.

The CLA lobbied the California state legislature at budget subcommittee hearings in early February addressing the funding cuts. Subcommittee members held that the cuts 'need more substantive analysis,' expressing particular concern over the fact that library programs are facing elimination rather than just reduction.

The CLA is calling for all California residents to contact their senators and Governor Brown asking them to restore library funding to the 2011-12 budget. If they don't, the organization has warned, 'all may be lost.'

President Obama has just released his 2011-12 budget proposal. Learn about the national budget's affect on education.

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