Spring came in like a lion in Connecticut, where the threat of sweeping changes to how public libraries operate arrived in the form of the Governor’s proposed budget. The Connecticut Library System was slated to lose $3.5 million if the original proposed budget was passed. The Appropriations Committee released a revised budget at the beginning of the month that “restores much of the funding for funding for statewide library programs that had been slated for elimination,” said State Librarian Kendall F. Wiggin in his Conntech Budget News update.
The biggest threat visible to library patrons would have been the elimination of funding to the State Library’s Connecticard program, which reimburses libraries for loaning books to out-of-towners. If public libraries in the 169 towns in the state could not come up with alternate ways to fund this program, patrons might not be allowed to borrow materials from libraries other than their town’s The revised budget restores $900,000 to the Connecticard program.
Other cuts in the Governor’s budget included 63% of the operating budget for CLC (Cooperating Library Service Units). This group saves Connecticut’s libraries over $7 million dollars in products and services, and provides training at all levels to public librarians in the state. They also negotiate with vendors on behalf of the libraries, saving huge amounts of staff time. Even with the revised budget, the CLC budget has still been cut from $332,000 to $190,000. In addition, $250,000 would have been cut for Grants to Public Libraries, but the Appropriations Committee suggested restoring $193,000 of that amount.
Coincidentally, on April 13 Governor Dannel P. Malloy had been previously scheduled as the keynote speaker at a daylong seminar on the future of Connecticut libraries, sponsored by the Aspen Institute and Connecticut State Library. With approximately 70 librarians and state leaders in attendance, the Governor told the crowd that we need to “redefine the mission” of libraries, and that the state government is no longer in the position to fund these programs. He said libraries need to look to municipalities and foundation support for fundraising. He also said the reality is that people have more access to information at home and in places such as his controversial CTfastrak busway linking two Connecticut cities which he said, do have wi-fi available. The State funded approximately $112 million for the project, with the rest coming from the federal government.
“I’m certainly happy to be here, even though I had to do some things that I don’t find comfortable when it comes to libraries and that’s trim back some level of the support that we can lend,” he said. The Connecticard program has been funded since its inception in 1976.
Two days after that keynote speech, librarians from around the state rallied at the Capitol Building with signs pleading to “Save CT Library Funding!” The librarians were not alone at the rally, as the library cuts were just part of approximately $1 million in spending cuts to a variety of programs and services in the state. During his keynote speech, the Governor did say that the budget could still be tweaked. “It doesn’t mean that we have everything right,” said Malloy.
During the crisis, Wiggin was charged with planning cost-cutting measures and possibly redefining how Connecticut libraries function, together or apart. While public librarians in the State were elated to hear the news, Wiggins said in his update, “There will be continued discussions between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office before a final budget is approved.” He also credited the many librarians, trustees, friends of libraries and library users for making their case to legislators.