MLS serves all of the varied types of member libraries in the state, providing many services that would simply be out of reach to most libraries without the collective funding and bargaining power offered by the organization. The three largest service areas are inter-library delivery, statewide databases, and training and consulting services. Since fiscal year 2015, state funding for MLS has risen by only 2%, while the cost of delivery services has skyrocketed by 39%. This dramatic rise in cost has been almost completely due to state mandated minimum wage increases for drivers and sorters who carry out the day to day delivery operations. As noted in an explanation released by MLS, “We like this income boost for the drivers and sorters [that] improves our overall economy,” but it does necessitate a reduction in services to balance the budget.
It is important to note that MLS has worked with members of the Executive Board to come up with a plan that offers a balanced budget without completely cutting any one service area. Among other reductions are a 20% drop in training and consulting services for member libraries and the elimination of 5,000 delivery stops per year - including completely eliminating Saturday delivery to some smaller libraries. These necessary cuts leave all types of library users with fewer resources.
The cuts are scheduled to take effect July 1, 2017 unless significant additional state funding is approved, yet it is impossible to ignore that we live in troubled times and that our students need free access to high quality information now more than ever. This funding crisis requires that all of us educate ourselves about the services we are losing and in turn educate others about these services and their value. If current trends continue, libraries may become the last bastions of free and unbiased information. We as librarians must serve as defenders of our students’ rights to this service.
If you would like more information about how you can help advocate for libraries, please visit the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners legislative agenda at: http://mblclegislativeagenda.com/. Here you will find a complete set of talking points that can be used at public meetings, library legislative breakfasts, or any other arena where people might have questions about library services. Please also feel free to widely distribute the handout entitled, “The Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Care About the Legislative Agenda and State Library Funding to the MBLC,” which can be found in PDF form on the page referenced above. This handout is tailored specifically to the needs of school libraries and would be perfect for distribution at PTA and School Committee meetings. Parents are very likely unaware that the vast number of resources offered to their students through our electronic resources collection is scheduled to be drastically reduced.
While it is true that there are many voices competing for funding and political attention right now, we can’t afford to allow libraries to fall by the wayside. I have seen the power of both school and public libraries as places of refuge in uncertain times. I also believe that most people value and respect their libraries and will advocate for us when armed with information. Please spread the word and give people the tools they need to fight for us.