Librarians to talk funding with legislators

By Melissa Toothman

Staff Writer

PHILIPPI?- Following the budget cuts facing Kanawha County libraries, local librarians will be descending on Charleston for the annual Library Day this month with one renewed common purpose: to instill the importance of library funding in their local legislators.

Philippi Public Library director Judy Buckner Larry said that the Kanawha County libraries experienced a significant funding cut that could put some at risk of closing, reducing hours, cutting positions and hours and even eliminating some of the services offered. That funding issue is one that most librarians in the area say they are hoping they won’t ever have to face.

“We’ve been blessed in that they’ve continued to fund us,” Upshur County Public Library Director Patricia Tolliver said. “Funding is a big concern, and that’s what we’ll be talking to our legislators about. In order to provide services at the level we’ve been able to provide them, we need money.”

“I know money is tight this year,” Tolliver added. “All we can do is plead hard.”

Librarians from around the state attend Library Day annually, slated for Jan. 23, but with the funding issues facing Kanawha County libraries, local librarians hope to be able to convince legislators just how important community libraries can be.

“I really don’t think our community wants to be without a library,” Tolliver said. “We’re hoping to get their attention. It’s going to be a tight year, I’m afraid.”

“The library is so much more than it used to be,” Larry said. “The state needs to give libraries more money, not less money.”

Larry said libraries are more than just a place to check out books. In the technology age, libraries provide computer labs and Internet services for those who are not fortunate enough to have those resources at their own homes.

Annually, library funding often depends on whether or not a local library can match dollars from other funding sources like their local school systems, county commissions and city councils. Tolliver said that the school levy in Kanawha County no longer supports its libraries.

Libraries provide job search assistance and resources for many kinds of research. Larry said that more people, for a variety of different reasons, turn to the library when they are in need of information or assistance.

That’s the case Larry and other area librarians and library staff are going to make when they visit the state capital Jan. 23 to talk to their local legislators about the importance of funding libraries.

“We just try to stress the importance of a public library in each of our communities,” Belington Public Library Director Tammy Smith said. “We see our respective representatives, talk to them about things (we have) done and how we’re serving our community, encourage them to support us the best that they see possible and to do (so) with the best that they have.”

Smith said patrons and concerned citizens can also help by contacting their legislators or even by attending. They may call their local library to find out about specific needs of that library and ways they can help.

Although some libraries saw an increase in funding during this current fiscal year, that may not be the case for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, according to the governor’s proposed budget that two librarians, Smith and Tolliver, said they received on Friday.

Tolliver said according to the Public Library Commission, the cuts to grant and aid for the Upshur County Public Library may set its budget back to something more similar to that of about two years ago, when the library had less aid to work with.

“Going back two fiscal years ago in funding from the state . . . it’s not good news,” Tolliver said. “We’re very concerned about library funding, especially with the Kanawha County situation. It’s trickling down to everybody.”

Tolliver was asked why it was important that libraries receive increased funding.

“So that we can maintain the services we have and help people have access to high speed Internet so they can do job searches,” Toliver said, adding that students come to the library for school research. “We support the school system.”

“People will have less disposable funds themselves (in a challenging economy), and they can rent materials from us that they would have to buy otherwise,” Tolliver later added.

Elkins-Randolph County Public Library Director Audrey Taylor said that technology is something that becomes outdated very quickly and is also very costly.

She said will soon stop supporting the Windows XP operating system that her computers are running. Although, Taylor cannot attend Library Day, she said four of her library’s board members will travel to Charleston to rally support.

“We’re trying to keep them (legislators) aware of the libraries, what the libraries do, why they’re important to the community and just what the libraries have done in the past,” Taylor said.