E. Spencer Watts, the finalist in the search for the new director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library, told a search committee that funding for the local library is one of the reasons he’s interested in running the local library system.
Watts’ remarks are a reminder that strong local support for the library system is one of the things that makes Baton Rouge a special place.
Although Watts was selected as the sole finalist for the local job, the East Baton Rouge Parish Library has not formally offered him the position. He is visiting Baton Rouge Friday and Saturday.
Watts currently heads the public library system in Mobile, Ala. Mobile’s public library budget of approximately $9.1 million has faced budget cuts recently, Watts told a local search committee during a public online interview.
By contrast, the East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s annual budget is about $34 million. “Unlike many public libraries, you have a very nice budget,” he told the local panel. “You have the funding that many of us would like to have.”
Across the country, funding for libraries is under threat, according to a study by the American Library Association and the University of Maryland. More than half of the public libraries in the study had flat or decreased funding for fiscal year 2011-2012. During the same time period, 23 states, including Louisiana, cut state funding for public libraries.
Meanwhile, demand for public library services remains strong. Thirty-five percent of Americans do not have high-speed Internet access at home. Sixty-two percent of public libraries in the study reported being the only provider of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Demand for technology classes, electronic resources, computers and Wi-Fi is up at libraries across the nation, according to the study.
In Louisiana, reductions in state funding for local libraries have been a special challenge for small library systems that rely heavily on state support to purchase reference materials. Because of its strong local funding from a dedicated tax, the East Baton Rouge Parish Library has been better able to absorb those state cuts.
Mary Stein, assistant director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the local library is facing other budget pressures. As books evolve into new formats, the library must purchase several versions of the same text to meet patron needs, a significant new expense.
Even so, the local library is open seven days a week and offers a wide array of services.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s resources and services are a big selling point for this community. Watts made a good point in reminding us of that reality.