As the Board of the Montana Library Association, it is our responsibility to open a dialogue about the 2017 Executive and Legislative cuts to State Agencies including the Montana State Library. We must also speak out about HB 261 reductions to the state’s public libraries, and the real impact to the people in our state and more specifically, the library patrons in Montana.
Libraries are an essential service, an anchor institution in each city with a public library, no matter the size of the town and regardless of the size of the library. Libraries are a safety net for our vulnerable populations. As services are reduced at the state level and people’s household budgets are stretched, citizens rely on their local public library to fill the gaps.
Libraries have always been the great equalizer in our society, giving every citizen the same opportunity to learn and the same access to information and materials regardless of economic level or availability of technology at home, which many of our citizens lack.
Libraries and librarians assist people who are looking for jobs and help them complete job applications; libraries and librarians provide people the resources to file their taxes; libraries and librarians support people filing for unemployment; libraries and librarians provide a safe place for youth to learn and grow – these are essential services that support economic development and that provide a positive quality of life in all of our home towns. These are just some of the services provided by our libraries to the patrons in our communities.
Not only are libraries the most reliable source of accurate information, they are also community centers. Oftentimes considered the community’s “living room.” In spite of the internet and the overwhelming amount of information available to many people at home, libraries are being used more than ever as community hubs and safe locations for the exploration of ideas.
The reductions to the Montana State Library budget will ripple throughout Montana, like a stone thrown into a pond, the reductions will affect all of the public libraries and all library patrons in the state. The Montana State Library is in an untenable position. It would be impossible for a small and fiscally responsible agency to absorb nearly $1 million in potential budget reductions without cutting services. It is simply not possible. The State Library will be reducing both staff and resources. The decreases to the talking book library, the loss of the reading room, cuts to the GIS program, and the elimination of training for librarians are the painful options available to meet the required budget reductions.
The Montana State Library and local public libraries have always provided services for disabled, blind, and low income Montanans. Our State Library staff and librarians throughout the state will strive to continue to meet the needs of our citizenry, but the budget reductions are a step in the wrong direction and will hamper our efforts and our ability to grow, evolve, and progress.
The 2017-2018 Montana Library
Association Board of Directors