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Libraries latest casualty in state budget

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SFPL Mission
With zero state dollars coming in, cities are on their own to fund public libraries like San Francisco Public Library's Mission branch. (Sirexcat/Flickr)

The cardinal rule at libraries is to keep quiet. But now one has to wonder: Have we been silent for too long?

California has cut state funding for its public libraries from $15.2 million to zilch. Public libraries like San Francisco’s are funded primarily through local property taxes and general fund revenue. But literacy programs, interlibrary loans and other programs like librarian training will have to rely on grants, donations and a bit of luck to survive.

The reduction has been anticipated since July, when state library funding was initially cut in half. And while many library officials have been bracing themselves by reallocating funds, the long-term picture is still worrisome.

In preparation for the state cut, Dr. Luis Kong of the Alameda Free Public Library was able to save the Write to Read adult literacy program through other grants. However, he admits that next year’s search for funding will definitely make it an “interesting year.”

The most immediate impact will be felt at smaller libraries, like the Plumas County Library, which serves approximately 20,000 people and relies much more on state funding than libraries in larger cities. Without the additional cash, they won’t be able to participate in Interlibrary loans, a service that helps libraries acquire books, audio recordings and other resources.

Donna Corbeil, the director of the Berkeley Library said it’s easy to overlook library funding amid the state’s fiscal struggles. “Everyone has their eyes on all these other cuts, and it would be so easy for libraries to get slashed without anyone noticing until it’s too late.”

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