Seating was in short supply at a meeting Tuesday at which Stillwater Public Library backers rallied support against a proposed 25 percent budget cut in city funding.
The cut, which allocates $900,000 for the library next year instead of the 2010-11 budget of approximately $1.2 million, was listed in the first draft of the city’s 2011-12 budget.
Councilors and city staff have said that budget reflects an effort to cope with financial constraints by focusing on core services such as public safety and infrastructure while spending less on “quality of life” services.
Many attendees at the Tuesday meeting said that definition of core services is too narrow and that the library is an essential, core service for the community.
“It touches almost all of us,” said Lynne Murnane, who serves as chairman of the Library Trust Board. “I think it’s one of the things that makes Stillwater a nice place to live.”
Gala Lackey said she and her husband, Todd, use the library as a valuable resource for home schooling their children.
“I can’t think of any service where you get so much bang for your buck,” she said. “We understand cuts are necessary, but 25 percent is too much.”
The Library Board favors a counter-offer of a 7.7 percent cut — approximately $92,000 — that staff say would prevent drastic cutbacks.
Barbara Miller, who serves on the Library Board, outlined to the crowd what the 25 percent cut would mean. She said 20 percent of all staff would have to be eliminated. That would result in the library dropping its hours from 70 to 60 a week, and it would be closed on Sundays.
Miller said the library would also have to eliminate online databases on subjects such as genealogy and standardized tests. The library would also plan to delay technology upgrades and would cut its materials budget used for newspapers, magazines, multiple copies of popular items and Ebooks.
Miller added that the library plans to eliminate its meeting room rental service should the cut become final.
Library Director Lynda Reynolds said the staff cuts would include three employees who run the rental service. She later said staff and maintenance cost for the meeting room service range from $30,000 to $35,000, and it generates approximately $21,000 in revenue.
Representatives from organizations who rent the rooms regularly voiced concern.
RuthAnn Sirbaugh, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Oklahoma State University, said OLLI spends between $9,000 and $10,000 annually in rent to use the rooms for continuing education classes for those ages 50 and older.
Sirbaugh added that the cut sent the wrong message to a city that values education and is the Oklahoma pilot city for the Certified Retirement Community program.
Several in the audience asked about the possibility of using volunteers to replace eliminated library staff.
“None of our staff can be replaced by volunteers,” Reynolds said.
She said one major hurdle is a state statute that prevents volunteers from working at the circulation or reference desks because they would have access to confidential patron information.
Another concern about the cut in city funding is that it could cause the library to lose state aid as well. The library received approximately $29,000 from the state, but the city cut could mean that the library falls behind its “maintenance of effort” requirement, which looks at funding levels.
One of the biggest crowd-pleasing speakers of the night was Leon Wood, who said he wanted to give a historical perspective. Wood told the story of Stillwater residents in 1937 who in the midst of the Great Depression and incredible drought voted by a 3-to-1 margin to build a new library.
“The citizens made a statement through their vote about the core service the library provides their community,” Wood said. “The library is not a peripheral service to the community. It’s part of the core service the city provides you and your friends.”