If federal cuts materialize, the state's library services office could be hit.
But state aid to libraries is expected to remain “level-funded” at $11 million.
By Brian C. Jones
Rhode Island Library Report
PROVIDENDCE, R.I. (March 3, 2013) – Here’s some good news (sort of) about the dreaded federal “sequester.”
The large-scale cuts to the federal budget that went into effect this month because of Washington’s failure to negotiate a deficit reduction deal – known as the “sequester” – won’t hurt Rhode Island libraries, at least for the time being.
That’s because the allotment Rhode Island now gets from the federal government - $1,086,948 – is in place for the rest of the state’s current fiscal year, through June 30.
But what will happen as the sequester crisis plays out well into the future is another matter, according to the state Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS).
Huge, arbitrary, across-the-board reductions in federal spending were designed to threaten such havoc throughout the nation’s economy that Republicans and Democrats would have no choice but to compromise. That turned out to be a colossal miscalculation, because both factions were too dug in to reach a deal on a less drastic plan.
But how much the Rhode Island library system could lose, and when, remains to be seen.
Where federal money goes
Federal money, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, funds about half of the $2 million annual budget for the Office of Library and Information Services. The 13-employee OLIS unit administers activities such as distributing aid to local libraries and overseeing the book swapping program that allows Rhode Island libraries to share their collections.
A sharp drop in federal funds would have a potentially severe effect on that office, unless state government – already financially strapped, and looking at loss of federal funds in other areas – would make up the difference.
OLIS had expected a slight increase in both federal and state funds in the 2014 fiscal year.
The state budget proposed by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and now being reviewed for possible changes by the General Assembly, anticipated an increase of about $96,000 in federal money, for a total of $1,183,126.
The governor, meanwhile, proposed a slight boost in the state’s share of OLIS funding, adding about $51,000, for a state allotment of nearly $1,007,465 million, bringing the total OLIS budget to nearly $2.2 million.
Howard Boksenbaum, state chief library officer, said in a phone interview with the Library Report last Friday that for the time being, “the sequester is mostly a function of fear. We don’t know what happens until we really have to confront it.”
Karen Mellor, program manager for OLIS, said in a telephone interview and an e-mail exchange that if there is a reduction in funds, the state office will feel it – and so will local libraries, in terms of reduced state services.
“We currently operate on a bare bones budget,” Mellor said, “so any additional reductions will require some difficult decisions that will no doubt be felt by the libraries.”
State aid to stay level
What is not scheduled to change from this year to next, at least as proposed by the governor’s budget, is the much larger amount of money – more than $11 million – that the state itself allocates to local libraries.
The funds to daily operations, as well as for construction projects and the Statewide Reference Resource Center.
Here’s how the state-funded programs break down:
- Community Grants. Rhode Island, unlike many states, gives substantial help to local libraries, through grants-in-aid that equal a little more than 22 percent of the $31 million that cities and towns spend from their own tax revenues. The state also provides grants based on money libraries use from their endowments, if they have them. Overall, public libraries are slated to get nearly $7.7 million from the state in the 2014 fiscal year, the same as this year, although allotments to individual communities are projected to have slight up or down changes.
- Construction aid. The state also contributes up to 50 percent of local library construction projects. The amount proposed for next year is up slightly, to $2.5 million, based on obligations for previously approved projects.
- Statewide Reference Resource Center. This is the state’s information service that includes the ASK RI Website, which answers reference and other questions for Rhode Islanders and for libraries. Managed under a contract by the Providence Community Library, the state’s allocation is a little more than $1 million for the coming fiscal year, the same as for 2013.