October 23, 2021

Library funding at risk

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Rebeca Caceres of Cortland holds her son Benjamin, 2, as they pet Bestie, a 4-week-old lamb owned by Cortland Free Library Director Jacalyn Spoon. Family programs at the library could face cuts due to reductions being considered in the federal budget.

You may not lose your local library, but the summer reading program may be at risk.

Librarians say threatened federal funding cuts could add up to $850 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services in President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal.

That’s money, authorized through the Library Services and Technology Act, that libraries like Cortland Free Library and Phillips Free Library in Homer, in particular, use to fund electronic resources, staffing and summer reading programs.

New York has gotten about $8 million yearly in library services funding over the past five years, said Sarah Glogowski, executive director of the Finger Lakes Library System.

Of that, Cortland Free Library gets $9,888 a year, said Director Jacalyn Spoon, who said the summer reading program would be threatened if those funds are cut.

“It would not necessarily directly affect the library right away, you’d see it eventually,” Spoon said, perhaps in September or October.

Phillips Free Library gets only about 1 percent of its budget from that source, but for a small library, that 1 percent is enough to run a really good summer reading program, said Director Priscilla Bergeron Thomas.

The aid also funds the Finger Lakes Library System, which helps libraries with important reporting requirements and keeping up with state standards, Thomas said. If the system’s funding is cut, libraries could suffer.

“The days a small library like ours is able to run totally independently, are long gone,” she said. “When the system is threatened, it really threatens a lot of things people just assume at a library, like interlibrary loan.”

And Glogowski from the Finger Lakes Library System said federal funding cuts would also cost at the state level, not just the 33-member library system. The New York State Library gets 43 percent of its operating budget from the Library Services and Technology Act.

The Finger Lakes system relies on state library staff to help with library charter amendments, library trustee questions and library expansions or consolidations, Glogowski said.

The act also helps pay for NOVELny, a program that provides access to online databases providing library users with thousands of journal articles, encyclopedia entries and newspapers.

“Commercial databases are extremely expensive for libraries to purchase, and many libraries simply do not have the funds to purchase them by themselves, so losing access to state-supplied articles would directly impact our library users,” Glogowski said. 

But it comes back to the programs that encourage reading, said Mary-Carol Lindbloom, executive director of the Ithaca-based South Central Regional Library Council, which serves public libraries and public library systems over 14 counties, including Cortland County.

“A robust summer reading program keeps learners engaged throughout the summer,” Lindbloom said. “We want, especially, young pliable minds to keep learning and keep engaged with learning and they may not even know that’s happening, but if they participate in reading programs they develop more synapses in the brain and keep growing.”

Many libraries could lose funds

What’s threatened: $850 million in Institute of Museum and Library Services funds

What this means: The institute funds the Library Services and Technology Act, and pays for the technology that gives library users access to journals and newspapers online, or allows them to get a book through interlibrary loan or take part in summer reading programs.

How much is at stake: The state gets about $8 million a year from LSTA funds and funding amounts for local libraries vary, from zero dollars at the private endowment-funded Kellogg Free Library in Cincinnatus to almost $10,000 at Cortland Free Library.