Librarians worry for future of statewide library catalog after governor’s funding veto

Several library shelves
The Soldotna Public Library is a net borrower from the Alaska Library Catalog. That means it borrows more books than it lends to other Alaska libraries. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

Go to most libraries in Alaska, and you can ask for just about any book, movie or magazine. And 99% of the time, it’ll get to you, said Rachel Nash, librarian at the Soldotna Public Library.

“This system allows us to say yes every time,” she said.

That system is the Alaska Library Catalog. Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $635,900 in funding for the program and others as part of a slew of budget vetoes earlier this month.

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The Soldotna and Kenai libraries are among the 85 Alaska libraries in the Alaska Library Catalog. Members can borrow and lend materials to one another, like videos and magazines.

“And of course, what everyone thinks of are books,” Nash said. “There are 3.2 million titles.”

The Dunleavy administration said libraries can operate sufficiently without the funding.

But the Alaska Library Catalog may have to cut back services if it can’t get a stable source of funding into the Legislature’s budget, said Steve Rollins. He’s a dean at the University of Alaska Anchorage Library, which oversees the consortium and contributes half its funding. The other half comes from subscriber libraries.

“But the reason that money is needed is that over the last seven years, libraries in Alaska have had very significant budget reductions,” he said.

Like the UAA library. Several years ago, it contributed $600,000 to the program, Rollins said. This year, he thinks they can eke out $100,000 to put into the statewide resources.

“So our ability to collectively put money into these programs are being put in jeopardy,” he said.

Nash, the Soldotna librarian, also said the need for statewide material sharing has gone up as the program grows, which has made it more expensive to meet costs like shipping fees.

It’s caused some libraries to drop out. The Haines Borough Library left the consortium last year after it became too costly for it to mail materials to other libraries. Rollins said he’d like the library catalog to put more toward subsidizing those shipping costs.

Nash said the program is important for smaller libraries like hers. The Soldotna library is a net borrower, so it borrows more books from other libraries than it loans out.

She said without the funding, the Alaska Library Catalog will have to cut two of its administrative positions.

“And those are the two positions that keep it going,” Nash said. “They’re the ones that make sure that we can share a catalog and keep it up and running and are able to make deals with vendors to save us time and money over the course of the life of the catalog.”

Dunleavy also vetoed funding for the Statewide Library Electronic Doorway program, or SLED. That system connects Alaska library users with digital archives and databases, and saw 22 million searches in the 2020 fiscal year, Rollins said.

Some resources within SLED are safe from the veto, like Live Homework Help and Online with Libraries, a system primarily used for remote training and videoconferencing. Both were added as line items in previous budget cycles.

This year, Nash said, the Alaska Library Catalog and SLED will be OK, thanks in part to federal COVID-19 relief funds. But she says the current system of funding is not sustainable long term.

“And if that funding continues to not be available, I would predict that we would see more smaller libraries dropping out of the system,” she said.

This is the second time this has been in the Legislature’s budget and vetoed by the Governor. Rollins said they’ll put forward a similar request for funding next year.

This story has been updated to clarify how funding for the Alaska Library Catalog program changed.

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