In Defense of Books

Proposed federal budget would slim down resources for state, rural and tribal libraries

During the New Mexican summers of her youth, Valerie Nye rode the morning bus with her sister and mother to the public library in downtown Albuquerque. The family checked out as many books as they could carry and would meet her father at Civic Plaza before taking the bus back home. “It was a full day of adventure that centered on going to the big public library for picture books,” Nye remembers. Now, as the library director at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, she recalls the importance of such adventures whenever she orders picture books, helps children with homework and works with staff. “It is a great job,” she says.

Nye is part of a small New Mexican delegation of librarians and politicians traveling to the nation's capital next month to oppose President Donald Trump's proposed budget aimed to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This time around, the annual lobbying trip to Washington DC has ignited a sense of emergency among librarians fighting against the potential gutting of federal funding that now supports a host of resources for cities and rural towns across the state.

"Libraries are not romantic, historic, quiet places where people sit and read all day," writes Nye in an email to SFR. "Libraries provide vital services to communities including internet access and reliable information on health, finance, politics and taxes. Libraries help provide people the tools to search for jobs, apply to jobs, interview for jobs and start their own businesses."

Eight New Mexico librarians are scheduled to attend the National Library Legislative Day at DC's Liaison Hotel on Capitol Hill. The event, to be held May 1 and 2, is sponsored by the American Library Association. It's an opportunity for librarians to meet face-to-face with legislators responsible for approving a 2018 budget.

Arts and humanities programs in the US currently make up $741 million—a small bite­—of the $4.6 trillion in total federal spending in 2016. President Trump's new budget slashes the total national budget to $1.1 trillion. Library advocates are now planning to speak out for their portion of $230 million worth of funding, currently provided through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which helps buy and maintain services in culturally vibrant towns and cities across the country. The New Mexico State Library receives $1.4 million annually, or $.70 per taxpayer.

Kathleen Moeller-Peiffer, director of the New Mexico State Library, fears that the proposed budget calls to cut federal funding meant to distribute state grants that cover rural bookmobiles, books by mail, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the interlibrary loan system, as well as most, if not all, of statewide online resources and the statewide summer reading program.

The State Library is primarily funded by the state of New Mexico, although the federal government, through the Library Services and Technology Act, provides 20 percent of the overall annual budget.

Patricia Hodapp, library director at the Santa Fe Public Library, says 58 staff members welcomed 713,677 visitors in 2016. The city's three library branches hosted storytellers, art shows, musicians, opera programs, quilting groups, voting groups, City Council get-togethers and neighborhood meetings. "The library is just integral to the arts and humanities," says Hodapp. Last year, 663,820 books, CDs and DVDs were circulated, while 59,655 library card-holders—20 percent from the county—accessed eBooks, article periodicals, Hoopla, Freegal Music, and free wi-fi.

"Federal cuts are not going to hurt us as much as a lot of libraries, but it will impact us and we'll have to come up with that funding elsewhere," says Hodapp, who adds that 96 percent of the library's $3.9 million annual budget comes from citywide gross receipt taxes, while other money arrives in the form of state general obligation bonds amounting to roughly $160,000 every two years. Federal funding goes through the state library, which reallocates about $13,500 to the city for books and computer software. "If the state loses federal funding, databases, such as Chilton Car Guide and Newsbank, will disappear," says Hodapp. "We will not have the budget to replace the state's databases."

Support from the Friends of the Santa Fe Library, the Brindle Foundation and anonymous donors supplement the library's budget by funding Books and Babies, a children's pre-literacy program, along with bilingual Spanish storytime. But if library funding ends up on the chopping block, Hodapp says she would have to "get creative to fund things other than salaries, lights, books and maintenance," and would possibly hold fundraising events as she has in the past.

Cynthia Aguilar, librarian at the Santo Domingo Pueblo Library, says at least 60 people ask her for help each day with homework, computer classes, printing tax documents and filling out veterans benefit forms. Less than 25 percent of the library's $75,000 annual budget comes from federal funding, but the lack of private donors limits options for additional money.

"To put it mildly, if the federal funding goes, I won't be here," says Aguilar, whose yearly salary is afforded by federal grants. "Our community library won't be open. It will be a travesty, because the tribe will be at a loss."

Santo Domingo is not the only tribal library facing potential cuts. All 19 members of the New Mexico State Library's Tribal Libraries Program would suffer greatly if the federal funding goes.

"I think Trump needs to rethink," says Aguilar. "Cutting is not always the best solution, especially to rural areas where we already have to travel longer distances for resources."

Two years ago, Joshua Finnell accepted a position at Los Alamos National Laboratory to become the scholarly communications and data librarian. In that role, he helps researchers plan, curate, disseminate and preserve digital research data. He is an active member on various national science and technology boards and locally serves on the board of the Santa Fe Public Library and plans to be on the lobbying trip next month.

Finnell, who remembers spending the majority of his childhood "consuming books about whales and planets" in Illinois, writes in an email that, in the brief time he has spent in Santa Fe, he is "truly in awe of the creative and artistic spirit in the city."

"For many folks," writes Finnell, "and myself, that creative spirit was sparked at a local public library."

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