By STEVEN NALLEY
As recently as March, Mississippi legislators had planned to cut funding for several state services, including education, mental health, and libraries. Ginny Holtcamp, director of the Starkville Public Library, said the proposed cuts would have reduced the Mississippi Library Commission’s budget by about $2 million.
“This would impact all libraries in our state as we all receive a portion of our budget through grants from MLC, and also, MLC provides funding for our huge periodicals database, Magnolia. However the end result of all of this is that MLC funds were not cut and were funded at the 2011 levels. Libraries are urged to thank all of our legislators for this effort and knowledge that our libraries provide essential services to our patrons.”
With this bullet dodged, Mississippi libraries have something to celebrate this National Library Week, set for April 10-16. The Starkville Public Library, in particular, celebrates new Kindles, Nooks, and E-readers available for checkout, thanks to a Library Services and Technology Act grant from MLC.
Yet, Holtcamp says the library still needs more financial aid from its primary funders, the city and county governments. She said the library currently receives $160,000 from each, but it’s been five years since the last funding increase from the county and two years since the last one from the city.
“This year we hope that our libraries will receive a much-needed increase,” Holtcamp said. “With costs of books and materials rising always, our libraries need increases on a regular basis just to keep up. Otherwise, each year we purchase less and less, thus our communities fall behind in being able to provide information that customers need and want.”
Holtcamp said it was important for citizens and lawmakers to remember that libraries provide more than selections of books, periodicals, and other media.
“We provide job searches, job applications and tax forms, just to name a few services that no one else provides our community,” Holtcamp said. “Libraries are the great equalizer for our communities.”
Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey said libraries were far from alone in their budget issues.
“I know that when we looked at our budget last time, we had to be very fiscally conservative across all our outside contributions,” Corey said. “It wasn’t just libraries that were kept at previous years’ funding.”
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer also said with so many projects in need of funding on a budget tightened by America’s economic recession, the county was unlikely to increase funding without support from the entire Board of Supervisors. He said he deeply appreciated the library’s services, and his wife had spent 3-4 years working there.
“The only things that we’ve been able to increase services for are things that we’ve been required to by law,” Trainer said. “Things like employee insurance, those are some prices we couldn’t control. Materials and equipment for road construction, those are prices we can’t control.”
Holtcamp said the citizens of Starkville could help the library as well, by donating to and joining Friends of the Library. She said they contribute not only monetarily, but also through volunteering and advocacy to aldermen and county supervisors.
“Friends are a tremendous asset to this library and contribute in many, many ways, supporting programs, providing childrens and teen programs and materials, and matching funds to enable the library to receive grants,” Holtcamp said. “Our community supports our Friends wholeheartedly - we are fortunate to have such a strong and viable Friends of the Library.”
Cathy Kemp, a member of the library’s board, said it also helped for more people to visit and use the library, even though its services are free.
“It just increases awareness,” Kemp said. “Since we are publicly funded, the more people are active in this, the more they’re willing to speak to elected officials to say, ‘Yes, we need this service.’”