Library Panel Says Budget Cuts Impact Intellectual Freedom

A panel of five librarians (mostly from public libraries) presented concerns and answered questions as part of the Intellectual Freedom Fest Wednesday, September 29.

A handful of SLIS students were among the attendees for “Public Libraries, Budget Cuts and Intellectual Freedom: a conversation about the state of Iowa Libraries” at the Iowa City Public Library.

Nick Shimmin (West Branch Public Library), Jason Paulious (ICPL), Mike Wright (UofI Libraries), Barb Black (ICPL), Mike Jorgensen (Coralville Public Library)

The panelists said the budget situation for Iowa libraries is better than for many across the nation, but deeper cuts could come further down the line.

The University of Iowa Library System’s acquisition budget actually went up by five percent this year.

Head of Acquisitions and Copy Cataloging, Mike Wright, said that is due to a directive by administrators to protect that part of the budget and the fact that the university got a big chunk of federal stimulus money.

“We have indications that next year may be pretty grim,” he said.

One concern that the panelists, who all have some influence over material selection at their respective institutions, had is many InterLibrary Loan (ILL) programs are state funded.

“Just because we’re not charging anyone to loan these things, we still have to have someone to go pull that book from the shelves, we have to have a way to transport it. It’s not a service without cost,” Barb Black, Technical Services Coordinator for the Iowa City Public Library, said.

And limiting ILL programs, especially at many smaller libraries, has a direct impact on intellectual freedom, she said.

“One of the things about intellectual freedom is being able to supply a breadth of materials,” Black said. “Cuts at the state level will have a big impact on intellectual freedom, access to information.”

She referenced a quote from the executive director of the Pennsylvania public libraries comparing today’s public library to an emergency room for the unemployed.

People are not only coming to find free (or cheap) entertainment, but to search and apply for jobs online and find information relating to career advancement.

The Coralville Public Library panelist said his facility has seen skyrocketing demand for services since the recession hit.

Audience members asked questions about how librarians decide what to cut. Many of the panelist’s answers centered around user studies and community demand, but even that does not make the decisions easy.

“Reference or nonfiction doesn’t have a strong circulation, but it may be of interest in different ways,” Jason Paulious, Young Adult Librarian for the Iowa City Public Library, said. “Databases cost more but they provide a different resource that we can’t provide on our shelves.”

Other topics addressed included developing unbiased policies for meeting room use, responding to demands from trustee boards and the community, and closing several of the university’s smaller branch libraries.

The panelists suggested several ways everyone can get involved in library advocacy including letter writing campaigns, voting on local library measures and petitioning legislators to continue funding.