Public libraries may have to slice hours and staffing after state lawmakers voted earlier this year to slash the budget of the Mississippi Library Commission, which oversees and supports all of the state’s libraries.
The commission, which assists libraries through distribution of state and federal funds and oversight, will receive about nine percent less than it did last year from the state’s general fund. The total allocation for the commission is $10,502,824; last fiscal year’s original allocation was $11,555,484.
“Some doors will close and services will be lost,” said Susan Cassagne, executive director of the Mississippi Library Commission.
The biggest effect on the state’s libraries, Cassagne said, will come from a “significant cut” to the Personnel Incentive Grant Program, which helps libraries pay staffers and buy new materials including books. With less of that grant money to be distributed, libraries may be forced to shorten hours or even lay off staff.
As the commission decides which budget line items to cut, they must consider state-mandated expenses and federal fund matching programs. Pamela Pridgen, one of five library commissioners, said the state of Mississippi requires the commission spend a total of $4.4 million on state health insurance for employees and an educational program called MAGNOLIA.
Additionally, the commission must spend about $1 million in order to receive approximately $1.8 million in federal matching funds. Neither the state statute expenditures nor federal required funding will be cut by the commission, Pridgen said, leaving a little more than $5 million in the budget.
“They’re going to have to cut hours – either staff so there’s fewer people to help people with various things, or they’ll have to cut hours of a branch, book budgets or number of materials they’re able to buy,” Pridgen said. “We’re not at the point where there’s any excess in our budgets. The cut is going to have a real effect on what people receive in their communities.”
Generally, Mississippi’s public libraries receive portions of local and municipal ad valorem taxes in addition to funding from the state commission. To maintain current library services, local governments could increase taxes.
Each public library in Mississippi is equipped with Internet, providing many people with a point of access for job searches and educational research, Pridgen said. Cassagne argues the cuts could mean fewer jobs for the state’s unemployed and lower quality of education for many of Mississippi’s public school students.
“We’re hurting,” Pridgen said. “We want the citizens of the state to know that we’re a service industry, and we want to provide good service. But if you cut our money, you’re cutting our services. And that only hurt Mississippians.”