Even in the digital age, libraries play an important role in community involvement, interaction and access to free and quality information.
“Local libraries are no longer static repositories of books, but are required to be ever-evolving and adapting to meet the needs of their communities,” said Hung Russell, co-president of the Friends of the Southeast Library.
In an effort to help public libraries meet these changing needs, and to broaden access to these services statewide, HF1282, sponsored by Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), would increase funding for the state’s regional public library systems.
The bill was held over Tuesday by the House Education Finance Division for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF1704, sponsored by Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee.
There are 12 regional public library systems throughout the state that are generally operated through, and primarily funded by, cities and counties. The state chips in approximately 7 percent of the systems’ operating costs to help create cohesion amongst them and provide enhanced stability. That funding is provided through the K-12 education budget.
The proposal would increase the library systems’ appropriation by $4 million per year to $17.57 million annually. It would also adjust the funding formula, which takes into account tax base, population and geographic location when determining how much each system receives.
Ann Hokanson, executive director of the Traverse des Sioux Library Cooperative, said the existing formula and funding levels are putting some libraries in jeopardy and making it difficult for all systems to plan and deliver services responsibility.
“There is widespread support for this bill because it fixes a real problem that ultimately affects every public library in the state,” she said. “It isn’t enough to love libraries, public libraries are one our nation’s most beloved institutions but it takes money to run them.”
The proposal would also authorize unused portions of the Regional Library Telecommunications Aid to be used for other library technological purposes, including network infrastructure, security and other telecommunications services.
Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) noted that given the size and reach of the library system, there have been concentrated efforts over the years to move the funding from the K-12 education budget to a state agency concept. She mentioned that it may be a topic to consider again in the future.
Murphy agreed but said proposals over the years have been met with resistance from regional public library boards.
“They don’t want the Legislature messing around with the structure,” she said. “But one of the responsibilities that we as a Legislature have, is doing funding that will stabilize and continue the services that they provide.”