State budget cuts could affect public library

Posted on Apr 27 2017 - 8:00am by Jaqueline Knirnschild

With the recent rollbacks in the Mississippi state budget, the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library may have to cut down on staff.

According to the Associated Press, in the current budget year, Gov. Phil Bryant has reduced budgets across the state by a total of $171 million.

Oxford Public Library

(Photo by: Cameron Brooks)

Judy Card, interim director of First Regional Library, said that as of now, she is unsure if those cuts will affect library budgets.

The Mississippi Library Commission, an independent state agency serving public libraries, will notify the First Regional Library if any cuts are made, Card said.

“We will just have to wait and see,” Card said. “We will hear from them as soon as they know.”

Laura Beth Walker, the head librarian of Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, said she thinks budget cut decisions could come out in the next couple of months.

“The federal government is looking at cutting the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is where library grant money comes through and provides collection enhancement funds through the Library Services and Technology Act,” Walker said.

If the library does end up losing money, Card and Walker said libraries will have to start slowly decreasing staff numbers.

“We have some people who are leaving, and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to replace them,” Walker said. “I’m nervous about it. If we lose staff, it’s going to be difficult, but we will do the best we can to continue to serve the community.”

One of the future plans that could be jeopardized with a lack of staff is a program to bring electronic resources and books to the Boys and Girl Club and Lafayette County residents who are otherwise unable to go to the library themselves.

“It’s all going to come down to if we have enough staff to be able to do that,” Walker said.

The Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library is a busy library in a small town.

“We do a quarterly user account of people who come in the library, and our last one was in March and for a seven-day period,” Walker said. “We had 2,000 people come in the door, and that’s why we need staff.”

In addition, during that seven-day period, the library answered more than 1,000 questions.

“We are definitely busy and need people,” Walker said.

If funds for the Mississippi Library Commission decline, the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library will feel the impact.

“The library commission supplies us with personnel and grants, which help us in terms of keeping up our staff,” Card said. “They provide us with training and staff development.”

The commission also trains specialists on how to improve summer reading programs, which are crucial to sustaining reading levels year round.

In June, the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, in junction with the Lafayette County Literacy Council, will begin one-on-one coaching to aid people in finding work.

“For a lot of people in Lafayette County, we’re the only way they can get on the internet or have Wi-Fi, so we have a lot of patrons who need help with online job applications and

Oxford Public Library

(Photo by: Cameron Brooks)

creating a resume,” Walker said.

Freshman international studies major Ally Weatherly, who graduated from Oxford High School, said she loves the library and thinks the possibility of budget cuts is disheartening.

“Before I could drive, I would just walk there every day and go to the upstairs quiet area with stacks and stacks of books,” Weatherly said. “It makes me so sad to hear this.”

Weatherly said she feels those who will be most impacted from these cuts will be children who rely on the library for schoolwork.

“There’s so many kids there who literally need the computers to do their homework because of how school is these days – everything is online,” Weatherly said. “How are you going to expect so much from these kids if they don’t have the resources?”

Walker said she encourages people who care about libraries to contact their state and even national representatives about the potential budget cuts.