Public libraries in Massachusetts provide a center for community life and have opened the door to learning for citizens from all walks of life. In 2001, Massachusetts residents made 25,809,565 visits to libraries, and these visits immeasurably enriched the cultural, intellectual, and economic life of the Commonwealth. But the regional library systems of Massachusetts are staggering under a series of budget cuts imposed under the FY03 budget. And things will get worse if expected FY04 revenue shortfalls are allowed to stand.
Since 2001, state support for libraries has been cut 25% (from $34.6m to $25.9m). These cuts have basically eliminated many regional support services such as on-line magazines and newspapers, regional inter-library transportation of books, computer networks to check out books, catalogs of special service libraries, and the Journal Article Clearinghouse that allows students and researchers to request journals not found in their local libraries.
Some specific cuts between the FY01 and FY03 budgets were as follows:
o State aid to regional public libraries was cut 11.5%.
o State aid to local public libraries was cut 21%.
o The Talking Book Library was cut 13%.
o Library Telecommunications was cut 92%
The Talking Book Library services are especially important to the 100,000 Massachusetts residents who are unable to use printed materials due to blindness, visual impairment, physical disability, or reading disability.
What these library services mean in human terms can be illustrated by this letter sent to the Director of the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library, one of the institutions at risk:
“My name is Scott Varley and I am 10 years old. I am dyslexic and love the books on tape that I get from the Perkins Library. I can’t read as fast as the other kids in my grade. I can’t read the books they are reading and the books I can read are not interesting. Before I found out about the Perkins Library, I had to have my parents read everything to me. They tried to keep up, but they were so busy doing everything else parents have to do they didn’t have time to read me everything I wanted to hear and learn about. Now I get tapes from the Perkins Library and listen to all the stories my classmates are reading. I am much happier because in school I can talk about the same books everyone else does”
MCHC President Jill Stein sees the library cuts as another sign of misplaced priorities on Beacon Hill: “Libraries are an integral part of a healthy community. It is unthinkable that sales tax loopholes are being preserved for powerful special interests – like the insurance industry, lawyers and accountants – while the libraries that serve us all are being dismantled. We should be cutting loopholes, not libraries.”
For additional information on services provided by Massachusetts libraries, contact the Board of Library Commissioners, Tel. 800-952-7403, www.mlin.org.