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On belt tightening

iStock 000010428867XSmall On belt tightening

On Thursday I was hit with two pieces of bad news. 

1. When my principal stopped in and waited until I finished working with a few research-needy students to have a private conversation, my stomach churned a little.  He was told that he had to make significant building budget cuts. The cuts have to do with overall District belt tightening and the fact that grade realignment has our 8th grade returning to the Middle School. My principal was extremely apologetic, noting that he clearly recognized that cutting library funding cut resources critical to all departments.  Nevertheless, like all the other departments at the school, our library is going to have to make some serious cuts.  And those cuts are likely to affect that largest of line items, our beloved subscription databases.

I sent this email to our teachers this morning asking them to tell me which of our subscriptions they and their students could not live without:

Dear friends,
I am certain you know that our school is forced to make budget cuts for the coming school year. I’ve been asked to trim our library budget and to make some serious sacrifices.  Some of our database subscriptions and other resources will have to be eliminated. 

Please respond to this email with a list of those databases/journal subscriptions and other resources you and your students could not live without.  I need to get back to Otis today.

Thank you in advance for helping me make some tough decisions!

joyce

I am also examining usage statistics and our senior exit interviews.

2. Later that day, I found a reminder of more bad news in my email box. I knew it was coming, but here it was, the formal announcement from Commonwealth Libraries via our state library listserv.  Despite all the letters many of us wrote and the phone calls many of us made over the course of the past year, the ground-breaking, model Access PA program, and its suite of associated resources, will continue at only a shadow (minus -72%) of its former glory. 

Commonwealth Libraries shared its reallocation strategies for operating in recession, as well as a request for feedback on the impact of the new funding distributions. (I am including much of the letter to provide a full picture of what the cuts will mean to teachers and learners.)

From Commonwealth Libraries:

stats2 On belt tightening

POWER Library, reduced by 58% to $700,000, will be greatly reduced in scope of offerings.  This funding level is expected to maintain at least one set of databases to enable students to do in-depth searching.  This strategy will maintain access to back issues of periodicals for school and public libraries and provide most students and adults minimum sources for authenticated information.

 

Note: The POWER Library databases will be selected using the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s procurement process.  The selection process is currently underway with the final selection to be announced most likely in December.

 

Interlibrary Delivery Service.  In this period of reduced funding, resource sharing is an essential service as libraries cannot provide all the resources their students and patrons need.  The intent of maintaining this program at current funding of $630,000 is to keep individual memberships in Interlibrary Delivery Service affordable to assure this tangible vehicle for resource sharing remains in place.  With libraries pulling out of many activities because of lack of funding, it is critical to continue interlibrary activities, which are heavily used Commonwealth-wide. 

 

The Statewide Library Card Program is Pennsylvania’s reciprocal borrowing program which opens the doors of all state aided libraries to residents of all municipalities that support their local public library.  The intent of this program is to establish a statewide network of public library service and to stimulate municipal support by offering a value-added service to those municipalities that support a library.  Funding compensates public libraries for a portion of the cost of serving residents outside their direct service area. 

 

At the 2008-2009 funding level, the program reimbursed approximately 20% of the cost per transaction.  If the full $3,000,000 available this year were invested entirely in this one program – with the result of ending all other programs – it would be funded at only 64% of last year’s level and further cuts would no longer provide the incentive of the original program. 

 

Despite the loss of funding, reciprocal borrowing remains a state aid subsidy requirement.  Section 303.3 (A) (1) of the Library Code requires all public libraries receiving state aid to participate in the Statewide Library Card Program regardless of whether or not the transactions are reimbursed. 

 

The financial reality of this program is it provides an additional source of operating revenue to participating libraries based on program activity.  Unfortunately, because the Statewide Library Card Program is the largest program in terms of cost, the funding simply cannot be sustained.

 

The loss of this predictable source of funding will exacerbate the impact of the reduction in the subsidy.  In response, the Office of Commonwealth Libraries will consider this added financial impact in responding to request for waivers and extensions of time to meet standards.              

 

The Electronic Library Catalog appropriation funds three programs: the Access PA Database, the Millennium Libraries Program, and Ask Here PA. 

 

·       The Access Pennsylvania Database joins school, public, academic, and special library catalogs together into one merged catalog, which is a guide to Pennsylvania library collections and a resource-sharing tool facilitating inter-library loan through an automated system. 

·       The Millennium Libraries Program provides participating libraries with an automation program alternative that is linked to the Access PA Database and enables updating of library records in real time.  This is a highly cost-effective program used largely by rural and small libraries on tight budgets.

·       Ask Here PA is a live chat reference service staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with librarians ready to answer online requests for information. 


All three of the Electronic Library Catalog programs will be continued but at a reduced level.  The consequence to the Catalog itself is there will be a freeze on new libraries joining; the frequency of catalog updates will be reduced and the on-line resources available to academic libraries will be eliminated.  Membership dues will need to be increased based on size of collection. 

 

The Millennium program will be supported for current school and public libraries this year and no new Millennium libraries added.  Cost-efficient options will be actively pursued.

 

Ask Here Pa virtual reference is the fastest growing of the statewide library services and

is attracting new users.   It is made possible through a partnership with public and academic libraries providing volunteer reference service to all residents.  Despite many libraries experiencing reductions in staff and increased demand for services, volunteers will continue to be needed to maintain the current level of service.  This program would be difficult or impossible to restart if stopped for even one year.  

 

The Access PA Digital Repository will remain a part of the Access PA database. The service permits the storage and retrieval of digitized collections created by libraries and other entities located throughout Pennsylvania.   New projects are welcome.

 

Summary

Three million dollars cannot sustain the programs and services at the prior year’s level.  Working within this fiscal reality, the goal of the Office of Commonwealth Libraries in making the allocation of these funds is to sustain the programs at a level that will maintain an infrastructure of service and in so doing, provide a base upon which to build in subsequent years. 

The Office of Commonwealth Libraries will continue to seek every opportunity to maximize funds, streamline costs and identify supplemental funding. 

Everyone involved in this process recognizes this reduction will create real hardships for libraries and library users.  In order for this Office to assess the impact of the reduced funding and to develop a rationale for future budget requests, the documented consequences to your library and community will be valuable.

Therefore, I am asking that you send your responses by December 11th to: Jim Hollinger jhollinger@state.pa.us under the heading “Library Access Funding.”

Thank you for your patience and for your inspiring and creative
efforts as we all struggle to continue to meet the library needs of our communities.

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I am now staring at the POs we wrote for this school year and watching as a steady trickle of email responses come in from our teachers. I am going to find it very difficult to say goodbye to any of my database friends, but I know I must.

Of course, my decisions are harder to make because I do not yet have a notion of which specific databases the POWER Library program will be dropping in its own 58% cuts.

I know that no one is crying for me and that our students will have relatively decent resources despite the cuts, but our program will certainly take a hit and learners will certainly feel this pinch.  When it comes to online resources, our students are used to the best.  Our subscription databases have become, in many cases, our classroom textbooks.

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I know others are feeling the pinch far harder than our students at Springfield.  For teachers and learners who rely only on those Access PA databases, that 58% cut is truly going to hurt, seriously deepening what I’ve come to see as the access gap.  Students who rely solely on our state-funded database system will have even less access to quality educational content. This is an equity issue, and possibly, an achievement gap issue.

I hope that our vendor friends (whom I dearly love) get these new realities and will help us by resisting a raise in their prices this coming school year. 

I hope that our legislators might somehow see the results of their cuts on young people.

I hope it doesn’t get worse.

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is the teacher-librarian at Springfield Township High School, a technology writer, and a blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

Comments

  1. Jude says:

    Ah, well. I have a miniscule budget to begin with (I purchase one database, EBSCO). When I started 6 years ago, I had *no* budget at all. We are facing cuts as well, but somehow I don’t think it will make much of a difference.

  2. Diane says:

    Joyce, those are some huge reductions at the state level. As local resources dwindle, regional, state, and federal resources become even more critical.

    If we can find money for [insert large government spending item], then we should be able to find money for educational resources.

  3. Terry says:

    Joyce, Our district leadership informed us this week, that due to a significant shortfall in CT State funding for mandated special education programming, we must accept 2 furlough days for every employee (certified and non-certified) AND the expect layoffs of 20 “at will”(aka part-time) employees; OR if unions do not agree to the furlough days, layoffs of 6 – 15 (or so) certified staff will happen in January. Guess who the certified staff are? Yup, “Instructional Support”, which in CT includes library media, guidance, social workers, etc. If Arne Duncan, Newt Gingrich, and Al Sharpton want a “Race to the Top”, how about starting with Federal funding for educational mandates instead of the “fire hose” economics pouring down on local school districts, eroding away our abilities to bring the 3S’s (sifting, synthesis, and sharing)~ the “new literacies”~ of critical Internet and ICT skills to students. We no longer have a choice 3R’s or 3S’s, our kids must have BOTH. (Thanks go to Patrick Woessner, Technology in the Middle blog, for the articulation of 3S’s). How can we get our collective experiences heard and shared?

  4. elisabeth says:

    These are incredible cuts. I am cringing thinking about what will be coming down here in Illinois. I had my LTC budget frozen for this year and I know more cuts are coming. Your well written article only brings into sharper focus the need to support each other for the sake of our students.

  5. lfox18 says:

    Certainly the textbooks laws need to be changed to reflect the reality that, in so many places, online databases and e-books have become the textbook as teachers move to more authentic an inquiry based learning. That would free up those textbooks dollars to be used for resources that the kids really need!

  6. joycevalenza says:

    lfox18, I love that idea! Do you have any idea how we might start that movement to redefine class texts? I’ll happily get on that bus!

  7. kat says:

    I would be interested in a follow-up on what databases your teachers and students can’t live without.

  8. Tina says:

    My budget has been cut to $500 plus whatever grants I can get. I do what I can with whatever is FREE. I buy only Fiction. No databases; no special services. The next cut will be ME!

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