Public libraries are an important part of all communities, but like many services, they are currently struggling with ever-tightening local budgets. As jurisdictions look for places to cut spending, library systems are often among the first to feel the pinch. However, libraries offer unique and important resources to their communities that go far beyond the exchange of books. To take just one example, public Internet access provided at libraries is a crucial tool for many job seekers. The growing list of services libraries are providing their communities includes literacy programs, computer training, career services, youth programs, immigration assistance, public safety awareness, disaster recovery services, and more. Because they play such an integral role in their communities, local leaders have been looking for creative ways to keep libraries afloat with smaller budgets.
Many library systems have turned to furloughs as a way to keep libraries open and programs running while still cutting back on costs. A furlough could mean a one-time closing of a single day like in Rock Island, R.I., or closings as long as week or more every month like in Newark, N.J. Even book-loving Seattle has closed its libraries’ doors for a week at the end of summer for the past few years in an effort to save money. An article on the closing quotes one library user who says many residents “depend on it for Internet access…You kind of take it for granted—and then suddenly you miss it when it’s gone.”
Not all libraries looking to cut costs have gone so far as to completely shut down for the entire day, but instead reduce hours of operations like in Gaston County, N.C.. Unfortunately, such minor cuts are a not an option places like Washington County, Minn. where budget cuts have led to 6 branches of the public library system closing.
ICMA’s Public Libraries Initiative investigates the many ways libraries can help local governments address community priorities. Its recent report, Maximize the Potential of Your Public Library, offers case studies of innovative libraries and local governments working in partnership. Visit the Knowledge Network’s Libraries topic page and the Public Libraries Innovations group to learn more and share your own experiences with maintaining library services in the face of budget cuts.
These are some of the Knowledge Network’s resources on managing library budgets and services: