Proposed federal cuts to libraries could cripple services statewide and limit technology upgrades locally.
That’s according to Scenic Regional Library Director Steve Campbell, who spoke to The Missourian on his concerns on President Donald Trump’s America First Tax Plan that eliminates funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (ILMS).
The proposed budget terminates $230 million in ILMS funding. Those funds are distributed to states and provided to public libraries in the form of competitive grants, inter-library loan courier services and other services, such as Missouri Evergreen.
“I don’t know what to expect but I really hope that they don’t defund the services,” Campbell said. “That is the only federal funding for libraries.”
Perhaps the largest impact locally would be access to Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) competitive grants, which Scenic Regional Libraries have utilized for technology upgrades. The grants require a 25 percent match.
According to Campbell, the Missouri State Library, a division of the Secretary of State’s office, awards $1.5 million to $1.7 million in competitive grants each year.
“We have been awarded these many times, including for our server, digital microfilm reader-printers in Union and Warrenton, our time and print management software for our public internet computers, all our historical newspaper digitization projects and more,” he said.
Campbell noted that Scenic Regional plans to apply for grants for a new districts-wide server and for self-check systems for seven new branches slated for construction.
The cost of the server and the self-check systems is estimated at more than $100,000.
“All those grant funds would disappear if IMLS is eliminated,” Campbell said.
He said the district would still likely purchase a new server, but the self-check systems would be put on hold.
“We can afford the server but it would be tight,” Campbell said.
In addition, a statewide courier service is partly provided through LSTA grants. This courier provides delivery of interlibrary loan materials between Scenic Regional library and other libraries. The service does not fund courier services between the Scenic Regional branches.
Campbell said the State Library provides every library in the state two days each week of courier service using LSTA grant funds. Scenic Regional pays for an additional three days of courier service each week on its own.
The cuts would not eliminate the courier service for Scenic Regional, but it would be costly, and could curtail district services and access to materials.
Campbell noted that a major concern is for smaller libraries and systems that rely heavily on the LSTA funds, including the Missouri Evergreen, a consortium of more than 30 public libraries that share an online catalog. Missouri Evergreen is subsidized through LSTA grant funds.
The Washington Public Library also is a member of Missouri Evergreen.
“If the grant funds disappear, we (Scenic Regional) could probably afford to continue paying for five days of courier service each week,” he said. “However, most other Missouri Evergreen members and other libraries around the state cannot afford to pay for the courier, and would lose the only two days of service they receive each week.
“As a result, if IMLS disappears, the 3,700 items we transfer between our library and other libraries around the state each month would most likely stop or dramatically decrease in quantity,” Campbell commented. “The whole consortium could fall apart.”
“If they get cut off completely, then we’re losing thousands of items that patrons borrow each month,” he added.
He further added that, if IMLS is eliminated, Evergreen fees will increase significantly, perhaps doubling.
“While we would continue to provide the service and offer seamless access to items at other libraries around the state, many other smaller members would be forced to withdraw due to the increased expense,” Campbell said. “In addition, in order to remain in the consortium and pay the higher fees, other services would need to be cut to shift those funds.”
Library funds also were slashed under Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposed budget.
There is $3 million estimated to be cut from funds that go toward libraries.
That includes internet subsidiaries.
Scenic Regional will lose about $55,000 a year in state aid. In addition, subsidies for the library’s internet access through Morenet would be reduced, increasing the library’s annual fees by $15,000 to $20,000.
The library would lose several thousands of dollars more due to proposed cuts to the Arts and Entertainment Tax funds allocated to Missouri public libraries.
“It may not sound like a lot, but it adds up. The bottom line is that services ultimately get reduced to compensate for these cuts.”