This week is National Library Week and is a fitting time to recognize how fortunate Allen County residents are to have an outstanding public library system. At a time when many public libraries face branch closings and other draconian budget cuts, the Allen County Public Library system remains strong and healthy.
A nationwide report by the American Library Association released in conjunction with National Library Week details the many problems that libraries face. According to the 2012 State of America’s Libraries Report, Publishers limiting library e-book lending, budget cuts and book challenges are just a few library trends of the past year that are placing free access to information in jeopardy.
In 2011, the Library of Congress lost 9 percent of its budget and cut 10 percent of its workforce. The Department of Education eliminated funding for the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, the only federal program providing funding to school libraries.
For fiscal year 2012, about two-thirds of public libraries are facing budget cuts. In Texas, the legislature cut funding for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission 64 percent and the agency’s library programs 88 percent. The overall Texas library budget shrank from an annual budget of $19.8 million to a two-year budget of $7.2 million. The programming budget was cut from $12.8 million to $1.6 million.
The Detroit Library Commission closed four of 23 branches. But as many as 18 branches were on the chopping block because of a 12 percent decline in revenue each year for the past three years.
In Georgia, the DeKalb County Library System has had a 95 percent reduction in its collection budget. The library went from having $2.2 million for e-books, books, CDs and DVDs to $100,000.
Sadly, the recession, which has caused the sharp decreases in library budgets, is also creating an increased demand for services. Nationally, circulation at public libraries increased. Seattle led the nation with a 50 percent increase in circulation over the past six years.
We are seeing here the trend is pretty steady with slight upticks in circulation, said Cheryl Ferverda, communications and development manager at the library. But we in Allen County have always been known for our high circulation rate. We are also known for our large collection in comparison to the population. We have a lot of dedicated library users here in Allen County.
Ferverda said the local library at this point has not had to consider closing any branches but has reduced staff through attrition.
We are 40 staff people fewer than we were five years ago, she said. Some things don’t get done as quickly as they would have a few years ago and there are some things we have to let slide.
She said library leaders are holding off on any large expenses or purchases whenever possible and are looking at each expenditure with a microscope.
Ferverda pointed out that the Allen County system is atypical of many libraries because of its extensive genealogy collection, the largest of any public library in the nation. Maintaining the collection is expensive, but it’s a real feather in our cap and does help the local economy with an influx of tourist dollars.
She also cited the Lincoln Collection as another example of how the local library system stands out: We are caretakers of a national treasure.
According to Ferverda, book challenges – complaints about books – (see box) are not a problem for the ACPL.
The biggest dilemma facing the local library is e-books.
It’s also a concern noted in the national report. The demand for e-books is increasing, but many publishers are increasing prices and placing restrictions on e-book licenses. Some publishers set an arbitrary limit of 26 loans per e-book license. Some publishers are refusing to sell to libraries altogether.
It is important to note that the high quality of the Allen County Public Library system is not accidental. The local library is stable because of exceptional leadership governing the library and robust public support. Allen County residents understand the value of ensuring access to library resources to all residents regardless of their economic background.