Library cards might no longer be good to borrow books from public libraries all around Connecticut, libraries like Ridgefield’s could lose group discounts for materials they purchase, and library services could be cut back under some $2 million in cuts to library support in the proposed state budget, Ridgefield Library Director Chris Nolan said.
“The state’s proposed budget has slashes in all, all, all things — all over the place,” Nolan said. “But libraries are particularly good at leveraging their funds to benefit a far greater number than most any other institutions you could probably imagine.”
Library workers, users and supporters are raising alarms about Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget, which they say “zeros out” state support for local libraries.
Malloy’s $40-billion two-year budget, proposed in February, would spend some $19.7 billion in the 2015-16 fiscal year and $20.3 billion in 2016-17, increasing spending about 3% in each of the two fiscal years. However, the budget uses program cuts and taxes increases to close deficits the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has projected to be $1.3 billion in 2015-16 and $1.4 billion in 2016-17.
Library supporters are seeking restoration of state spending in three areas:
• $1.25 million for the Connecticard program, which allows card holders from one town’s library to borrow materials at any other town library in the state.
• $500,000 in state support for the Connecticut Library Consortium, an organization that gives local libraries mass buying power and enables them to purchase materials at dramatically discounted prices.
• About $250,000 in state grants directly to local libraries, which is particularly important for libraries in hard-pressed inner cities and other struggling municipalities.
Nolan is joining library workers and supporters around the state in trying to draw attention to the way the governor’s cuts would affect libraries.
They say the cuts hit state support for programs that amplify the power of what local libraries spend and do, she said.
A major blow would be losing state backing for the “Connecticard” program that enables people to borrow from libraries all over the state.
“Your library card in this state, in Connecticut, can be used at any public library throughout the state,” Nolan said. “You can borrow material from Brookfield, you can borrow materials from East Lyme, and you can return them anywhere,” she said.
Behind library card holders’ statewide borrowing power is state support.
“Last year the state spent about $1.2 million on that,” Nolan said.
The state support enabled a lot of sharing among libraries, allowing an amazing breadth of subject matter — 4.5 million items, worth about $68 million, library supporters say — to be available to citizens, without their local library having to buy it all.
“Without this funding,” State Librarian Kendall Wiggin told the legislature, “towns will have no incentive to open their libraries to non-residents and this cost-effective program will collapse.”
“What happens is $68 million worth of material went around the state,” Nolan said.
“We don’t buy in the area of taxidermy — the Ridgefield Library doesn’t have much call for it,” she said. “If someone wanted whatever books on taxidermy, we’d borrow them from a library that has more call for that.”
The $1.2 million the state spends a year supporting and enabling libraries’ statewide sharing allows that $68 million worth of materials to be borrowed, Nolan said.
“That’s $68 million of materials that individual libraries didn’t have to buy, because they share,” she said.
But that’s not the end of the damage the proposed state cuts would do, Nolan said.
“There’s something called CLC — the state has legislation that establishes an institution called the Connecticut Library Consortium. We negotiate extraordinarily advantageous contracts for the purchase of materials, for purchase of library furniture, databases,” she said.
The state library consortium has a lot of leverage and buying power, enabling it to get big group discounts, she said.
“Ridgefield alone saved $57,000 in 2014 because of that,” Nolan said.
Wiggin told the legislature the state library currently gives the Connecticut Library Consortium a $332,000 operating grant. The proposals being considered “would not eliminate the CLC, but would end state funding, which is over half of its budget, and would put the future of the origination and its services in jeopardy,” Wiggin said.
“The CLC negotiates and administers statewide contracts for library books and other products, saving public, school and academic libraries over $7.1 million each year.”
Nolan said the cut would be felt in Ridgefield.
“The consortium purchasing will be gone, so it means a great deal less buying power,” she said, noting that “$57,000 is saved by the Ridgefield Library in purchases in one year, because of the state consortium discounts.”
Nolan said the state cuts would also trigger reductions in federal aid to Connecticut libraries, compounding the situation.
“If this money is reduced from the state budget — it’s a total reduction of $2 million — the state will lose an additional $540,000 in federal money because our state is not meeting the ‘maintenance of effort’ standard,” Nolan said.
The federal reduction hits the sharing program that allows holders of Connecticard library cards to get materials from libraries all around the state.
“There’s a distribution system to put all those books back in their right library. That’s paid for with federal dollars, so that will go away,” Nolan said.
She raised a concern about the loss of state support for libraries that do a lot of lending to other libraries.
“Libraries and their resources, and depth of resources, vary widely. So there’s a true-up, and that’s state money that goes to local libraries based on how much their resources go to out-of-town people.”
Both the funds and the statute creating the program would be cut, Nolan said, eliminating incentives for “resource rich libraries” — big libraries, such as those in major cities — to share and support smaller libraries.
“It zeros out the funding, and it eliminates the statutes,” Nolan said.
“So the resource-rich libraries could stop loaning, or they could start charging for loans to out-of-town residents.”
This would reduce the availability of books and other materials, but would hit especially hard at programs that involve requests for many copies of the same title — which a single library might not have but could get through borrowing.
“We have a great many book clubs that come to us for multiple copies for a single title, 10 or 12 copies so everyone can read the same book,” Nolan said.
“That kind of thing will go by the wayside.”
Nolan, like library workers and supporters around the state, is unabashed about appealing to the public for political support, asking people to contact politicians and oppose the cuts.
“Please help advocate for restored state funding for library services in Connecticut,” Nolan wrote to Ridgefield’s library supporters. “Without this, it will be chaos, it will cost us much more to run the Ridgefield Library and services will be curtailed.
She provided email addresses for Ridgefield’s legislators.
Ridgefielders have either one of two representatives in the state house: Jan Giegler of the 138th District for residents north of Ridgebury Road and George Washington Highway and John Frey of the 111th District for the rest of town.
All of Ridgefield is represented in the state Senate by 26th District state Sen. Toni Boucher.
Their e-mails are:
Nolan urged library supporters to protest the cuts.
“We must act on this before the end of April 2015,” she said.