Washington – The American Library Association (ALA) is asking Congress for $100 million in stimulus funding to aid the nationâ€™s working families during the current economic crisis. Aid is sought to stem the bleeding of critical library services that help Americans with job searches, small business development, financial literacy and other essential assistance in hard economic times.
Public libraries are facing the most severe cutbacks in decades as budget shortfalls hit cities, towns and rural areas across the country, according to the association. From Los Angeles to Boston, libraries are cutting hours and services; some are even facing the threat of closure at a time when their support is needed most.
ALAâ€™s recommendation comes as Congress holds hearings this week on economic growth and job creation, including a Joint Economic Committee Hearing tomorrow.Public libraries depend heavily on local property taxes to maintain operations. Across the country increased foreclosure rates, lower home values and fewer sales have sharply reduced available funds, forcing libraries to cut services and hours.
â€œAmericaâ€™s free public libraries provide a lifeline for citizens in need across the country,â€ said ALA President Jim Rettig. â€œEnsuring Internet access, career workshops, business seminars and other economic support services are vital links in the nationâ€™s financial recovery. This is no time to cut much-needed support, reduce hours or close library doors.â€
Rettig pointed to a recent ALA study showing that 73 percent of all libraries nationwide provide the only free Internet access in their communities. In rural areas the rate rises to 83 percent, according to the 2007-2008 report on public library funding and technology access. Many libraries are reporting double-digit growth in computer use this year, he said.
The National League of Cities recently estimated that a 3.6 percent decline in property tax revenues is likely to affect city budgets until 2010. In response to these budget shortfalls, libraries are being forced to cut back on hours or even close neighborhood branches.
The Trenton, NJ, public library will close its four branches and lose about half of its 57 employees by Nov. 1. The city of Milwaukee is considering closing two of its 12 branch libraries. In Newton, MA, outside of Boston, four branch libraries closed this summer; four others in nearby areas also closed or are on the chopping block.
Many cities are choosing between cutting staff and reducing hours. Others, such as Fort Worth, TX, are looking at both, with proposed cuts of more than 100 library jobs along with reduced hours. The city is facing an estimated annual shortfall of more than $20 million. Additionally, a number of communities are also facing shorter hours and fewer days of operation in Florida.
ALAâ€™s recommendation for stimulus funding seeks support for basic library services across the country as well as specialized assistance to help Americans deal with the current economic crisis. In particular, funds are being requested to:
- Expand critical employment activities and services such as resume development, job bank web searches and career planning workshops;
- Reinstate or supplement evening and weekend hours of operation at libraries to provide the greatest possible access to services;
- Promote financial literacy, housing counseling and small business development assistance; and
- Acquire additional resources and materials to help keep up with increased demand for economic services nationwide.
Investments in libraries often yield high dividends for communities. Studies show economic returns from salaries and wages paid to staff, construction costs, employment services and library purchases. A recent Pennsylvania study points out that for every dollar invested in the public library, the community receives a return of $5.50. A similar report from Florida shows a $6.54 return on investment.
â€œEconomic studies demonstrate the positive impact of spending in local communities,â€ said Joe Matthews, an internationally recognized expert on library management with an MBA degree from the University of California, Irvine.
â€œKnown as the multiplier affect, every dollar spent in the community will ripple through the economy with an impact ranging from 7 to 11 times the initial spending,â€ he added. â€œThe proposed stimulus spending for Americaâ€™s public libraries will have an enormous impact on local economies, helping communities across the country get back on track financially.â€ Matthews is an acclaimed author and professor at San Joe University.
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W. Alston Roberts III