Governor vetoes funding for Alaska’s unified library catalog, video conferencing services

Loussac Library, library, Anchorage
The Loussac Library in Anchorage. (Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has vetoed nearly $636,000 in funding to continue running Alaska’s statewide library catalog.

“That’s the system that allows you to receive library materials in Juneau from Anchorage or in Bethel from Juneau,” said Robert Barr, Juneau’s library director. “That’s what allows us to connect with each other.”

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Barr is also the past president of the Alaska Library Association. Last year, he warned that deep cuts to the university system threatened the state’s unified catalog system. That’s because it’s coordinated through the University of Alaska Anchorage. Extra funding was then added by lawmakers to the Alaska State Library’s operating budget to cover the shortfall.

In explaining the recent veto, the governor’s office wrote that the state libraries had enough resources to operate without extra money.

The governor’s office referred CoastAlaska’s questions to the Department of Education and Early Development.

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“Given the current economic and fiscal environment, funding to expand library operations was vetoed,” an agency statement said.

Barr said he understands there may have been confusion about the purpose of the funds. But, he said, the money was never for expansion. The $635,900 was to maintain a core service allowing library patrons to borrow books and other materials from libraries across Alaska.

He said the statewide catalog will continue to operate for the time being. But individual municipal libraries will have to share the cost, and he expects some of the smaller ones may drop out.

The governor also vetoed $200,000 for video conferencing between about 90 library branches across the state. It’s part of the Online with Libraries program. Librarians have used the service to connect with patrons remotely after libraries were shuttered statewide by a health mandate.

“Examples of programs taking place or were in planning states as of 4/1/2020 include staff meetings, digital story hour, virtual book club, and fitness classes,” a statement on OWL’s website says.

But those services aren’t expected to continue when the funding for the Fairbanks-based technical coordinator expires in July.

“And without that kind of central coordination piece, libraries won’t be able to provide that service anymore,” Barr said.

The governor left the OWL program’s funding to help smaller libraries pay for broadband internet. And about $33,000 of the funding is intact for libraries to buy software to keep running the hardware on their own.

Dunleavy also vetoed these programs last year. But he later reversed himself before signing the budget.

It takes a three-quarters majority to overturn a governor’s veto.

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Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.