Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Help Save Illinois Library Funding

A Special Message from NSLS Director Sarah Long:
Systems Are In Trouble!

lllinois' Regional Library Systems are unfunded! Although money was allocated by the General Assembly, payments have not been released and no money has been received yet this fiscal year, which began July 1, 2009.

Imagine what life will be like without regional library systems in Illinois. Van delivery will go or will have to be replaced with a costly alternative. Joint ventures such as shared catalogs, insurance pools, or purchase groups won't be able to continue. Have training or professional development programs helped you and your library? Do you ever make use of or call the system for information? How will you work collegially with staff at other libraries if the system isn't there? How will you organize advocacy or wider public relations or marketing initiatives without the system? Who will tell you about and help you with grants? These are just some of the ways systems help the library community. The impact on the public will be profound, too. With no van delivery, library users will be limited to what they can get on their own, and eventually reciprocal borrowing agreements will break down.

It's not a pretty picture. Without cash - and soon! - Systems are in mortal danger. Fortunately, there's something you can do!

What You Can Do on January 20 to Save Systems

Payment decisions are made by Comptroller Dan Hynes, but Governor Quinn also has influence. Unfortunately, library systems are not the only agencies in this situation, making it difficult to get the attention of the comptroller and the governor. On Wednesday January 20, we will get their attention by filling their e-mail boxes with thousands of messages.

Here's how it will work: Visit next Wednesday, January 20. An easy-to-use form will be on the front page, enabling you to e-mail the governor and comptroller. Our goal is 3,000 e-mails each to Comptroller Hynes and Governor Quinn. This has worked for library funding issues in other states, and it can work here, too.

You'll be able to make the campaign viral! You'll be able to ask your friends, colleagues, and coworkers to participate via e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or MySpace, all with one simple click.

Red line January 20 on your calendar and set aside five minutes that day to send your messages and encourage others to send messages, too.

Are All Systems Suffering?

All nine of Illinois' Regional Library Systems are primarily funded by an annual grant from the Illinois General Assembly that flows through the Secretary of State's Office. This year the grant was cut, but worse than that, no funds have been forthcoming since the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1, 2009.

In a recent meeting, System Directors revealed their coping strategies: Several systems are looking into mortgaging system buildings or renting out a portion of the building. While this might bring in some money, it is a slow and ultimately costly process. Most systems have borrowed or plan to borrow money. Of course any loan must ultimately be repaid with interest. Some systems are discussing closing for a week or a month to save staff costs and some building maintenance costs. Problems with this approach include interruption of service to member libraries and the public, and furloughed employees may resign for more secure employment. All systems have trimmed their budgets in every way possible, and most are now charging for at least some continuing education activities. Several systems are considering additional personnel lay-offs.

The unspoken consideration in all of these discussions is, "Will the state of Illinois honor its obligation this year?" If money is borrowed, will state payments begin to flow so that it can be repaid? Only one system reported having enough money to last the fiscal year without payments.

In a recent meeting of the Illinois Library Association's Public Policy Committee, ILA Lobbyist Kip Kolkmeier suggested that this fiscal year might eventually be considered a "lost year:" as the year progresses and the state goes deeper and deeper into debt and does not pay its bills, state lawmakers might just discount FY10 and decide not to carry the obligations of the year into the next fiscal year. This would require action of the General Assembly, but in the deepening budget crisis, it is conceivable. Kolkmeier also said that FY11 would be worse than the current fiscal year.

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