Libraries caught in state budget crunch

Late payments have north suburban sharing program running on fumes

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Escalating state budget problems are straining Illinois' library systems.
"We're running out of money," said Jan Hayes, co-director of the North Suburban Library System, which operates a popular program that allows readers to fetch books from other libraries. "We've laid off our director, and we've laid off all of our staff except the delivery people," she said.
The NSLS serves Kane, Cook, McHenry and Lake counties. Its interlibrary loan and material-sharing program in 2009 ferried 5 million books, DVDs and other materials among its members. It also provided consulting, networking, subsidized technical support, an online catalog and dozens of other services to school and public libraries.
Late payments from the state to the tune of $880,000 have left the North Suburban system with no operating funds, Hayes said. Last month, the system was forced to abandon the majority of its regularly provided services and lay off its director and nearly all of its staff.
Today, the system is running on about $223,000 in donations from its members. It's focusing on keeping a skeleton staff to run the van-delivered material-sharing program as long as possible.
"Our public libraries have donated money to keep the delivery services going for another three months, but we are just up against the wall," said Hayes, who works part time now for the system.
Library systems across the state are suffering because of state budget problems, said Anne Craig, director of the Illinois State Library.
"In our department alone, we have about $24 million in vouchers and invoices waiting to be paid," Craig said. "Much more money was appropriated than has been collected. The issue is, quite simply, there is not enough money in the checkbooks to write the checks. Our $24 million is just a peanut in the pile of the $4.5 billion waiting to be paid."
The DuPage Library System -- which serves 383 facilities in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties -- also is under stress, although it has not announced any cuts in services. The DuPage system has received only 57 percent of a $1 million grant it was due this fiscal year and only about 3 percent of another, smaller grant, according to the system's website.
As the state's library systems anticipate continued budget problems this fall, each is surveying members and investigating how to move forward. Meanwhile, the Illinois Library Association, the ILA Advocacy Committee and the directors of the Illinois Library Systems have invited residents to contact local legislators about the issue.
Carolyn Friedlund, head of information services at the Dundee Township Public Library in East Dundee, said sharing information, services and materials saves libraries time and money because each library doesn't have to devote as many resources to selecting and purchasing items and services.