WLA Warns of Significant Threats to Libraries in Governor Walker’s Budget Proposal

Posted by Lisa Strand on Thursday, March 10, 2011 in State Legislation/Initiatives
The Wisconsin Library Association warns of significant threats to library service if Governor Walker’s proposed biennial budget is approved. Major reductions in school aids, shared revenue to municipalities and UW System aids will mean reduced access to information and professional librarians in public, K-12 and higher education libraries. Wisconsinites could experience reduced access to job training and search tools, interlibrary loan, legal and health information, and school library materials and computers.

“This budget threatens library service at a time when we should be investing in 21st century information resources for all Wisconsin citizens,” said WLA President Rhonda Puntney.  For instance, 10 percent cuts to BadgerLink, the statewide database of thousands of full text newspapers, journals and other resources, will mean the loss of comprehensive job training and search tools during a time of high unemployment.

Shared revenue cuts and the elimination of fair funding rules for membership in library consortia will likely result in curtailed service at many public libraries, with the closure of smaller libraries also possible.

“WLA acknowledges that many programs must share in the pain as our economy struggles to recover, but it is counterproductive to cut libraries when use is increasing and these institutions have been models of efficiency and resource sharing,” said Puntney.

During the last 5 years, public library visits have increased by more than 10% and loans of library materials have increased 15%. During the same time, the number of paid staff has increased less than 1%, according to statistics reported annually by public libraries to the Department of Public Instruction. Nationally, Wisconsin’s public libraries rank 8th in circulation, but 22nd for total operating revenue and 20th for paid library staff per capita.

In addition to lean times for public libraries, students in K-12 and higher education have also suffered the effects of budget cuts that have reduced professional staff to serve students and print and electronic materials. While librarians across the UW System have cooperated to increase shared collections and therefore reduce costs for all, those efficiencies could be threatened by a plan to spin-off UW-Madison, and potentially UW-Milwaukee, into a separate public authority. A $6 million initiative to boost statewide digital resources and make the UW System more competitive with institutions in other states was also not funded.

WLA asks legislators to restore funding levels to allow libraries to continue to share resources and provide the broadest possible access to information, to help grow Wisconsin’s economy and educate its citizenry.
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