Rural library systems affected most
“We based our decision this year on the availability of federal grants.” Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, governor’s chief budget aide “Federal grants can’t substitute for what the state aid provides.” Lt. Gov. jay dardenne
In St. Francisville, public library director Glenna Fallin faces the frustration of finally scraping together dollars for electronic readers and suddenly lacking the money to load them with fresh reading material.
Fallin planned to use state funding to buy books for the readers. A cancellation of those dollars nixed her plans.
“We won’t be able to provide new titles,” she said.
More than a month after the legislative session ended, library directors like Fallin are getting a handle on the impact of an $896,000 cut in state aid to public libraries. The $25.6 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that started earlier this month excluded the funding, which libraries had come to expect each year.
Smaller, rural areas will suffer the worst consequences because their libraries have small budgets that benefited from the annual boost in state funding.
The annual library budget in West Feliciana Parish is $307,000, with state aid contributing $11,400 to the total.
The Jindal administration and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne are at odds on why the dollars were eliminated after traditionally being there year after year.
The Jindal administration contends libraries can benefit from federal technology grants through the State Library.
The grants provide $1 million for the State Library to purchase e-books and $782,000 for statewide technology training and equipment.
Michael DiResto, spokesman for the Division of Administration, said parish libraries can borrow the e-books from the State Library.
“We based our decision this year on the availability of federal grants,” said Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide. “We’ll look at this again in the course of developing next year’s budget.”
Rainwater said Dardenne also needs to decide how necessary state aid to public libraries is. The aid flows through Dardenne’s budget.
“The lieutenant governor needs to make decisions as well as to where his priorities are,” Rainwater said.
Dardenne said he asked the Jindal administration to include the state aid in his budget and then begged the Legislature to insert the money into the state operating budget. He said the federal grants will not replace the state funding.
“Federal grants can’t substitute for what the state aid provides. If that’s what Paul is telling you, that’s absolutely erroneous,” he said.
In the East Carroll Parish town of Lake Providence, residents looking for a free Internet connection have two choices: the public library or a coffee shop.
The state budget cuts could whittle down the options even further.
Renee Whatley, director of the East Carroll Parish public library, said the loss of state funding strips her of the ability to replace computers the public uses to search for jobs, surf the Internet and apply for benefits.
“We have a hard time buying ... equipment without state aid,” Whatley said. “(State aid is) something that has been the norm for me in my 17 years as the library director.”
East Carroll Parish is one of Louisiana’s poorest parishes with a median household income of $24,038, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics. In 2010, only 8.3 percent of residents age 25 or older had a college degree. The public library’s single branch is supplemented by a bookmobile.
“There are a lot of people who are never going to own their own personal computer. They don’t have access to the Internet ... We don’t have a McDonald’s,” Whatley said.
Last year, the parish library’s $300,000 budget included roughly $11,000 in state funding.
The library computers are older models with outdated software. However, Whatley said, the computers are in high demand.
Without state funding, there will be no new computers, she said.