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Missouri's proposed budget cut for libraries sparks concern
April 21, 2023
In late March, Missouri’s House of Representatives motioned and approved to allocate $0 to public libraries in the next state-operating budget. Republican House Chairman Cody Smith proposed this $4.5 million cut in the initial House Budget Committee hearing, citing the lawsuit ACLU-MO between the American Civil Liberties Union and Missouri about book bans.
If this budget passes through the rest of Congress, there will be unfathomable consequences to libraries and the communities they help. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that
an unbalanced portion of the budget given to libraries goes to rural and smaller library systems, so this defunding budget would disproportionately hurt rural communities compared to suburban and urban communities.
“The majority of people who use the public library are using libraries because they don’t have access to true, credible information otherwise. Libraries would probably just go out of business if they don’t get money. The places I feel where libraries are needed the most are where the libraries are going to suffer the most. Some county libraries would probably be fine, but libraries that depend on the funding the most would suffer the most,” junior and library student aid Caitlin Brandmill said.
Libraries also have more resources than just books. Many community members — readers and non-readers alike — may not know about or utilize these resources made available to them by their local public library.
Too often, public libraries are thought of as the last dying ember of the pre-digital age, when in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. West’s library and the St. Louis County Libraries (SLCL) offer many events, classes and unorthodox items that members can borrow, including Chromebooks, projectors, board games, telescopes, fort-building kits and even fishing equipment.
Students utilize West’s library by hosting events, challenges and activities, giving students who wouldn’t otherwise have classes with each other a way to interact. At the SLCL, classes and events provide that same interaction, which is vital to creating a sense of belonging in a community area.
Parkway West Library
From movies students can borrow, puzzles to put together, a sticker maker, a sticker wall and a creative corner to do fun DIY projects in, West’s library has plenty of activities to take advantage of. Librarians Brian Welch and Lauren Reusch take many steps to create a welcoming environment for all students.
“[Our library] is an environment for kids to learn outside of [the] academic setting. [They’re] more at peace here. We have lots of things for people to explore outside of traditional academics, [where] students can find some interest in our different projects or use this space to have a mental timeout — time to mentally heal,” Welch said. “In the last couple of years with [COVID-19] especially, we’ve intentionally added a lot of the crafts and stuff to create that mental [and] social break for students. In elementary school, you’ve got recess, and here, people might have P.E., but some people don’t have that class, so the library acts as that space for students to take a break.”
Many students use the library as a common space before school and during Ac Labs. Some host clubs during Ac Lab in the library, such as Chess, Dungeons and Dragons and Black Student Union. Others use it as a quiet space to unwind. When it comes to books, though, the library has many events and set-ups that promote reading, such as Read Across America. Senior Elle Rotter is the student leader of the Book Club and gets involved in the library’s events regularly.
“I enjoy participating in the activities in the library because it’s a fun way for people to get involved at West and in reading. As a club, Book Club likes to get involved in activities like Read Across America, and [we] find ourselves determined to complete these challenges,” Rotter said.
West’s library also uses the Sora app to encourage online reading. Students can download the app and borrow books and audiobooks completely online, which removes the checkout and returning steps of the process, ensuring readers cannot lose any books or forget to check books back in.
“I feel like our library does a really good job at staying connected; we use social media to promote everything we do. The library is still a place for the community to connect, and they use the digital era as a way to keep up. If we tried to stay as just a place with books, we wouldn’t be able to keep up in today’s society. Reusch uses a lot of technology when she helps teach students and teachers different digital software. She is very good at utilizing technology to promote learning,” Brandmill said.
St. Louis County Library
The St. Louis County Library (SLCL) provides hundreds of resources, classes, events and even vouchers for St. Louis events. From Diaper Distribution to GrandPads and accompanying access classes, SLCL branches have much to offer their community.
“Now more than ever, it’s super important to have accessible, accurate information, which libraries are meant to provide. With all the book bannings happening right now, their information and books are imperative,” senior Katherine Hansas said. “We are starting to see more gaps in true information, especially that is easily accessible to all people like on the internet, and libraries fill this gap.”
In addition, libraries not only keep up with the digital age but also promote it. SLCL prepares classes that teach patrons how to use the internet and provides Wi-Fi hotspots for patrons to borrow. Junior Elizabeth Franklin worked as an intern for SLCL over the summer and enjoyed her experience.
“I didn’t expect the scope of influence that the libraries have on the community and how much the libraries impact the community, especially people from lower-income families. SLCL even does children and adult eye examinations, which for low-income families is important. A lot of the events bond families together across the community who probably wouldn’t interact otherwise,” Franklin said.
Students can also utilize their public libraries for essay help, ACT and SAT classes, tutoring and color printing. Book clubs and the summer reading club are also very popular for getting kids and teens reading.
“There are just so many resources that are geared toward students, as well as so many toward other ages. People think that libraries are just books, but in reality, they do much more for the community,” Franklin said
The importance of public libraries
Although libraries undoubtedly positively impact the communities around them, Representative Cody Smith’s proposal to defund all Missouri public libraries continue to threaten all they have accomplished.
Using the ACLU-MO court case where libraries protested book bans as the reasoning for defunding libraries is not only nonsequitur but, frankly, immature. Businesses and government branches should be able to legally argue with the governing body of a country and not get reprimanded for it, no matter the outcome of the argument. On top of that, these proposals would disproportionately affect minorities in many ways.
Minorities that live in non-suburban areas have a higher dependency on state funding and, therefore, would be hurt the most by these cuts. Many suburban libraries collect significant donations from communities, lowering their dependence on state funding.
“Our rural libraries rely the most heavily on this funding to serve their communities, and they will be crippled by this drastic budget cut. Given the present political climate of Missouri, we anticipate librarians fleeing in droves. We anticipate rural libraries closing, or remaining open with diminished collections, event offerings and floundering under oppressive labeling systems devised by hamfisted partisans who know nothing about libraries, and care nothing for their communities beyond their ability to yield votes,” the Missouri Library Association (MLA) wrote in a released statement.
The ACLU-MO case targets libraries for including explicit content regarding the LGBTQ+ community and ethnic minorities. The MLA is concerned that defunding the libraries is just another step in the ACLU-MO case, arguing that Missouri is trying to control the content in our libraries by defunding them.
“[The proposal] will be used almost exclusively to remove, label and restrict access to materials and events that feature the life experiences and stories of LGBTQ+, BIPOC, women and other historically marginalized communities – as has been a hallmark of anti-reader campaigns across the state and nation over the past year,” MLA wrote.
Libraries, whether through the school or the state, are extremely important to the neighborhoods around them. They provide accurate information, classes that help all age groups and opportunities for families to have fun. Even if community members decide not to use their public libraries, recognizing their importance is equally imperative. As Missouri’s Congress attempts to defund our public libraries, it is vital that community members remember how important our libraries are.
“There are so many good things that come from having a public space for neighbors to gather. Not everyone has access to good, true information — whether at our schools or the internet, not everyone has access to accurate information,” Brandmill said.