At the same time that budget-challenged Kansas City is re-invigorating a vibrant, high-caliber library system, including presenting a dazzling array of authors and lectures, Johnson County has had to slash two-thirds of its programs. You are not likely to attend a program on this side of the state line, unless you happen to have little children to attend the “Story Time” programs.
With recent budget cuts leading to fewer hours at many Johnson County libraries, declining service, fewer books in the collection, cuts in building and equipment maintenance, as well as programming, what are we doing to our community treasure?
Hold on. Things are threatening to get much worse.
The libraries have been told by the county commissioners to plan for three different gloomy scenarios over the next two years: (A) A $1.6 million cut; (B) a $2.4 million cut; or (C) a $3.2 million cut.
The correct answer to the scenarios outlined is (D) None of the above. There should be no more cuts to our libraries.
Even in this digital age, there are six million books checked out at our libraries each year. In 2011, there were 15 items checked out per capita — for every man, woman, and child who lives within the library’s district. Thousands come to use its computers, as well as read books and magazines. The library is clearly a magnet for a great many of our citizens.
We are slashing and burning a community asset that is the cornerstone of our quality of life.
In the parlance of government-talk, our libraries should be “held harmless” from the across-the-board cuts implemented by the county commissioners, because of declining revenues.
If necessary, the county should tap a tiny bit of its $65 million in reserves to cover the libraries’ hit. Or, other agencies should be cut more to make up the difference.
But we cannot cut our collections any more. Said one library official who wishes to remain anonymous, “The cuts to our collection of books will take years, if not decades, to recover.”
We cannot cut library personnel any more than the 15 percent already cut and still provide the kind of service patrons expect. We cannot shutter any more hours out of any library and still serve our patrons appropriately, and we should even consider restoring the hours to those branches that have been already been forced to close during certain evenings.
Our libraries have always been a source of pride, and their future is critical to this community. Someday, in the distant future, libraries may be become less a part of our integral lives as the digital world takes over. But, for now, our libraries are vital.
To our county commissioners, we say, “Please, hands off our libraries.”