What if you went to your library one day and there were fewer books? Or the databases your child used to research her book report were gone? That’s a reality for many Missouri libraries which are struggling to maintain services in the face of a state budget cut. Katelyn Brown tells us how local libraries are trying serve their communities with less money in the bank.
WARRENSBURG--- Gracie Booth, 11, comes to the Trails Regional Library to research animals on the computer. She has recently been learning about the okapi, a hybrid of a giraffe and a zebra. She looks up information about how their tongues curl up in their mouths once they put them back in. However, recent state government cuts to public libraries will restrict Booth from researching her favorite things and animals like the okapi.
Among many other libraries across the state, Trails Regional Library’s Warrensburg branch, has lost online databases due to budget cuts by the state government in the program that has been funding them. If libraries don’t have the money to pay for their Internet access, they have to decide whether to cut it altogether or decrease the services they can offer.
The state government allocates money to the general public library programs and the Remote Electronic Access to Library program, which funds the Missouri Research and Education Network that provides digital services and online resources to public libraries across the state.
When Gov. Nixon cut the general public library funding in the state budget, he also cut funding to the REAL program, the program that helps public libraries pay for their Internet services. This funding cut raised prices for MOREnet, a service provider that includes fast Internet speed, online resources and databases. Dawn Thurnau, the manager for marketing and product manager at MOREnet, estimates that there are nearly 130 public libraries who use their services.
While the administration at places like Warrensburg try their best to make do with what they have, sometimes they just can’t keep everything.
“Libraries have been approached with if it gets cut, ‘Would you be willing to pay money back into MOREnet to make up that difference?’ Your little library districts, they can’t. Their state funding probably is 60 or 70 percent of their total budget. We would probably pay in some, which therefore takes more money away from our collections, our facilities, our staffing,” said Anita Love, the Trails Regional Library assistant director.
Students like Booth, who do not have an Internet connection at their houses, feel a direct impact on their lives with the Internet connection.
“If I don’t have the Internet to do my research project on, then I can’t do school grades if I need to do a research project on the end of it,” said Booth.
This not only affects students who need those databases to work on school projects, but also adults who use online resources to stay informed and communicate.
Barbara Curtis, a Warrensburg library patron, said, “Those computers over there are extremely valuable for the individuals in our community who can’t afford an internet connection at their home. They can come here and fill out job applications. They can do job interviews over them. They can do all kinds of contacts to help increase their viability in the community.”
With the state government not funding the MOREnet services for these libraries, the public libraries across the state have to find the money for these resources somewhere else. While this is possible for library branches like Trails Regional Libraries, it is not possible for everyone.
Mexico libraries also understand the importance of funding these services for their town’s patrons. Christal Bruner is the technology specialist for the Mexico-Audrain County Library District and the branch manager for the Mexico location. She sees the impact these cuts have on libraries even smaller than hers.
“If we didn’t have the connection that we get from MOREnet, a lot of the smaller libraries would not be able to provide quality and fast internet access,” said Bruner.