Losing our libraries

Posted on 31 Mar 2011 at 2:33pm

Here’s what the Legislature’s proposed budget cuts will really do to our library systems

PHYLLIS GUEST | Special Contributor

In their rush to close the biennial budget gap — brought about by a barely acknowledged statewide recession and a badly flawed statewide tax policy — the Texas governor and legislature are defunding our future.

No doubt you have read that the lege proposes enormous cuts to K-12 education and higher education. You may not have read that the same lege proposes to totally defund the Texas public library system.

Here’s what that means:

• Texshare Databases will lose $8 million. Texshare is a program through which all of the state’s public libraries, public and private universities, community colleges and libraries of clinical medicine gain access to information on topics from art to Zen.

• K-12 Database will lose $5 million. This statewide program offers thousands of full-text educational resources to students in Texas public schools. Think homework help.

• Loan Star Libraries will lose $13.4 million. This direct aid program provides grants to about 500 of the state’s public libraries, allowing them to extend hours, buy collections and equipment and offer educational programming.

• Remaining statewide programs will lose $3.5 million. This represents the elimination of money for upgrading systems, training staff and assisting bilingual learners.

When these four are cut to save the state just under $30 million over the two-year budget, a fifth source of funding will disappear:

The federal government provides $8 million in library support. But the feds only help states that help themselves; no participation means Texas forfeits all the money that now sustains interlibrary loans, job search software and hardware and outreach to rural and other underserved communities.

The Dallas Public Library System alone will lose $300,000 under the legislature’s proposals. It would be hard to overestimate the impact of such a loss, given that city of Dallas budget shortfalls over the past two years have forced cutbacks in staff and hours and that the coming budget year looks as bad or worse.

Not willing to let our libraries go down without a fight? Here are five things you can do:

• Find out more at txla.org/take-action

• Sign the petition you will find at that website.

• Call and email and write your state senator and representative.

• Write letters to the Dallas Morning News and other media.

• Check out the Oak Lawn Library (best LGBTQA collection).

• Volunteer at your local library and join its Friends group.

While our elected officials and media tell us Texas is the best of all possible worlds, we know that is untrue. We also know that it’s up to us to fight for our state’s intellectual infrastructure — and our future.

Phyllis Guest is a Democratic and LGBT activist living in Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.

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