Checking out the impact of library funding cuts

By CATHRYN CARTWRIGHT,

Ricks Memorial Library in Yazoo City is working hard to provide important resources to the community despite budget cuts over the last few years.

Ricks Library is just one of the hundreds of community libraries across Mississippi that receive funding from both the state legislature and the Mississippi Library Commission.

When Director Craig Wooten first began working at Ricks in 2015, the library received a Personnel Incentive Grant from the Mississippi Library Commission for $51,472.84.  When that number was combined with funding from the state and local authorities in 2015, the total budget reached $312,162.

The library's budget is broken down to fund educational programs, technology, book collections, and personnel.  However, due to a lack of funding in the Personnel Incentive Grant, the Ricks library has had to reduce its staff over the last few years.

"When I started there were four full-time staff, two regular part-time staff, one substitute part-time who would fill in when needed, one part-time who was paid for by an outside agency, and one trustee from the Department of Corrections who did janitorial duties," Wooten said. "Now we have two full-time staff, myself and the Adult Services Librarian, and two part-time, a security guard and a substitute."

Wooten said that the largest budget cuts started in 2016, when their Personnel Incentive Grant from the Mississippi Library Commission was reduced to $38,871.86.  In 2018 that same grant was reduced to $31,160, making the library’s current budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year a total of $295,500.

Wooten said that despite the budget cuts the library has managed to keep going with a smaller staff, and has actually been able to increase its budgets for book collection, community resources, and educational programs.

"We have increased this area of our budget from $12,200 to $18,400 over that time," he said.

Wooten said that while he understands that the state legislature is working with a limited amount of money and that libraries were not the only entities cut, he still believes that cuts like these are making it more difficult for libraries to serve their communities in the best way possible.

"I know the vital role that libraries play in their communities and how important they are," he said. "But perhaps a member of the state legislature does not realize the role that libraries play in their communities, or perhaps they don't have a full understanding of everything that we do and offer. It's up to us and their constituents to get them the message of how important libraries are to all of us and therefore the importance of their funding."

Wooten said that Ricks Memorial Library offers books and resources for students to do research projects, internet access for people applying for jobs or taking classes online and also genealogy records and other tools to help people discover their family history.

"Local libraries are unique," he said. "They provide services that you aren't able to find anywhere else in the community, and they provide these services to everyone. If someone wants to better themselves in any way, we can provide them with resources to assist them on their journey."

Wooten is staying positive when talking about the future of Ricks Library.  He said that they are always searching for grants that may be useful to help further the library's mission, and they will soon welcome new additions to the staff in the form of a new full-time Children's Librarian and a part-time Circulation Tech.  Wooten said that the library always welcomes the community's support in the form of local volunteers, as well as monetary contributions and other resources that may be donated throughout the year.

"I think that a lot of people here have great pride in their library," Wooten said. "The community has always been extremely supportive of the library and myself since I arrived, so all I really ask for is their continued support and to let us know how we can improve to better serve them.”