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March 18, 2011

GROOMS: Public libraries worthy of funding attention at state, local levels

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Before the 117th session of the Indiana General Assembly was interrupted by disruptions in the House of Representatives, lawmakers were in the process of sharpening some new tools to help what may be the best bargains in many Hoosier towns: our public libraries.

While most of the early attention was focused on “right-to-work” legislation and education reform, two small but important bills designed to help libraries cope with declining revenue were moving through the legislative process.

They didn’t garner many headlines, but they were impactful bills nonetheless for facilities that continue changing with the times in this rapid-pace information age. Those bills are now stuck in legislative limbo, perhaps the biggest frustration I have in this ongoing Statehouse stalemate. I hope things get back to normal soon, because our libraries and other good causes need and deserve help.

Libraries don’t often make news, especially at the Statehouse, but they are very important to a community. I was reminded of this recently after spending time with Steven Day, director of the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library and Libby Pollard, who runs the Jeffersonville Township facility.

For example, Day reports there are 55,000 library card carriers in Floyd County. That represents about 76 percent of the county’s entire population.

And it’s no wonder. There’s something for everyone — from the toddler to the teenager; from the student to the working adult to the retiree. Libraries are now so much more than books.

Day reported in 2010 the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library loaned 450,000 items to patrons, including not just books but magazines, movies, art, music and more.

“We’re not just in the book business,” he said. “We’re in the information business.”

In all, he said 277,000 people came through the doors in 2010, an average of 5,100 per week. Day also reported a combined 30,000 people participated in 785 programs last year. But his budget has been so tight, Day said it’s been about three years since he could afford to put the library’s bookmobile back in motion. He also said money that used to go for special purchases like furniture, carpeting or roof maintenance is now needed for the operating budget.

That’s why I enthusiastically support House Bill 1333, giving public libraries the opportunity to replace tax revenues lost under the circuit breaker tax credit. That bill is currently stuck in the House committee process.

Jeffersonville’s Pollard said when impacts from the property tax caps and the shortfall in county adjusted gross income tax revenue are combined, her library will lose about $181,000. Like the New Albany facility, the Jefferson Township Library is a busy place. Pollard said 2010 statistics showed more than 32,800 borrowers, 494 library-sponsored programs, 74,599 computer log-ons, and 317,017 materials checked out by patrons.

I also joined 47 other senators Jan. 25 in approving Senate Bill 201, which allows a library board of a Class 1 or Class 2 public library to provide severance pay to a library employee who is voluntarily separated from employment with the library. I believe this would make it easier for libraries to trim staff levels and adjust to decreasing revenue streams.

This legislation would also allow a library board to appropriate funds for employees to have memberships in local, state and national associations. This is perhaps more important than ever, because the sharing of ideas that results from these activities can help our libraries learn to be more efficient and do more at times with less. These are items you probably didn’t see on the 11 o’clock news report from the Statehouse.

You can count on me to be there every session day, representing the things you care about – including our public libraries. If you ever have questions or comments to share with me, please don’t hesitate to send an e-mail to senator.grooms@iga.in.gov or call toll-free 800-382-9467.

State Sen. Ron Grooms (R-Jeffersonville)

 

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