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State budget cuts hit rural libraries hard

By Robyn Claridy
Nov. 24, 2011 at 10 p.m.

Rural libraries across East Texas are tightening their belts as state budget cuts and the upcoming closure of the regional library system take a toll.

Grants, discounts, free continuing education for librarians and consulting are just a few of the services the Northeast Texas Library System offers libraries across East Texas. Its branch is slated to close in August.

"This is the last year that system offices will continue in the same way as they have because of state cuts," said Jerry McCulley, coordinator of the Northeast Texas Library System.

McCulley said rural libraries will be hit the hardest with the budget cuts, because their service provides assistance in areas they don't get anywhere else.

"Anywhere from writing a new policy for a library to how to handle eBooks are services we provide," McCulley said. "When you're managing a library, a lot comes up and most libraries aren't managed by a professional librarian. Most don't really have the education and experience, and some local governments don't pay a good salary, which causes libraries to suffer."

<strong>'Such a business'</strong>

The director of the Sammy Brown Library in Carthage, Debbie Godwin, said her facility was forced to eliminate one of its employees who works during the summer reading program.

"We lost $7,003 and any training that we had, or seminars that both myself and the staff could go to," Godwin said.

Godwin said she used the consulting aspect of regional library system with making policies and making sure she knew all of the laws that govern libraries.

"It's really going to be hard," Godwin said. "The library from when I was a child is certainly a different one now. It's such a business. Your librarian is everything. I'm an electrician and a plumber here; this morning I was changing light bulbs. There just isn't as much help out there as there was before."

Upshur County Library Director Mark Warren said his library didn't lose any personnel, but would miss the technology services and free training the regional system provided.

"They were able to get us our continuing education that we are required to get annually. I have to have that training in order for our library to keep receiving accreditation," Warren said. "NETLS paid for that for us. Now, in our budget we have money set aside to pay for my training, but it won't go as far as it usually does.

"This year, I'm not going to be able to go to the Texas Library Association conference, because that would take up most of the money we set aside for my continuing education."

He said their library would also lose the technology specialist that NETLS had to assist them.

Despite cuts to area libraries, library officials said the facilities are a vital part of a community when it comes to job hunting and even a source of entertainment in some areas.

"We're the movie store, the book store and everything," Godwin said. "We're fortunate that our city and county government recognize the importance of us in the community, because they're who fund us."

Warren said the library is also an essential tool for job seekers, because they can use the library computers.

McCulley said the Texas State Library is attempting to pick up some of the consulting services that the regional system provided and providing webinars for training.

"However, considering the cuts to the state library, the best they can do is not going to replace the regional library system at all. There will be very little face to face educating for libraries, and at best consulting will be done over the phone probably. It's hard to say what they're going to do until they know the budget," McCulley said.

<strong>Statewide cuts</strong>

In July, Gov. Rick Perry signed the new state budget that reduced funding for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by 64 percent, cutting state funding for the agency's library programs by 88 percent, according to the Library Journal.

According to figures provided by the state library, the overall state library budget will go from $19.8 million each year of the two-year budget to $7.2 million. Funding for the state agency's library programs will go from $12.8 million to $1.6 million, and the Library Development and Library Resource Sharing division will be merged into a single division.

With the cuts, all funding for the Loan Star Libraries program, which has given $130,114 to the Longview Public Library since 2002, was eliminated.



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