Mon April 23, 2012
Budget cuts threaten regional library system
(STATEWIDE) Changing technology has thus far done very little to dampen the popularity of Wisconsin's libraries. They claim 35 million visitors a year. But the era of lean budgets is threatening the foundation of the state's regional library system.
Last year, lawmakers cut state support for Wisconsin's 17 regional public library systems by 10 percent. The state budget also repealed a rule that was at the center of Wisconsin's system of resource sharing. The so-called "maintenance of effort" concept prevented governing bodies like cities from making dramatic cuts. Library advocates say its elimination undermines the ability to share books and other resources. Ron McCabe is the current president of the Wisconsin Library Association, "All of our cooperation that we have among public libraries is based on the sense that there would be some equity. And if local funding is cut too much in a particular locality that local contribution becomes out of balance with what people are getting from the other libraries."
Complicating matters for the state's libraries is that while localities now have the freedom to make deeper cuts, public libraries are still required to develop their own collections as a condition of system membership. This, as interest in libraries is growing. Kurt Kiefer is the Asst. Superintendent that oversees libraries at the Department of Public Instruction, "Libraries are becoming more and more community centers, anchors within a community where a lot of other resources are being accessed."
Kiefer is also concerned about the elimination of the "maintenance of effort" rule. He says the regional library system is like a three legged stool that has had one leg taken away.