Last updated 10:53AM ET
April 20, 2014
Nebraska News
Nebraska News
Libraries struggle to balance between necessities and technology
(2011-06-21)
(NET Radio) - Cities across the country are still feeling the pinch of the economic recession. One service that often gets the brunt of the downturn is public libraries. A recent report from the nation's biggest library association says U.S. mayors reported that hours, staff and services at local libraries were in the top 2 budget areas that were being slashed. This is happening at the same time that library technology is rapidly advancing.

Clay Masters, NET News

Retired elementary school teacher Darlene Brumbaugh stands in her garage library in the south central town of Glenvil. The Brumbaugh library is the town of 300 people's only library. Brumbaugh has no one to take over the library.

Garage of learning

Darlene Brumbaugh is a retired school teacher and lives in the small south central Nebraska town of Glenvil. After she retired in 1996 she opened a library in her garage.
In 1999 the Brumbaugh library became a non-profit. It's mostly stocked with children's books. As many as 15 children visit a week. While libraries in larger communities are trying to keep up with technology, Brumbaugh says her need is much more basic.

"The funds that we did have put back for building fund are kind of depleted because I've used it off and on since 1999 to replenish books or put more books in the library," Brumbaugh said. "I've taken (money) out 3 times for gas and lighting"

Brumbaugh's challenges show the rudimentary hurdles facing public libraries.

"On the state level we've struggled with budget cuts and some of that does get passed down to the libraries in the state in the form of reduced funding that we are able to provide," said Rod Wagner, director for the Nebraska Library Commission. "In turn many municipal and county governments across Nebraska that provide the great majority of the funding for libraries. They too have been struggling with local finances, and libraries have been a part of that, had the effect of some reduced funding."

Clay Masters, NET News

Grand Island Library Director Steve Fosselman holds the library's only e-reader. The Nook is in the library to demonstrate to the public how e-readers work.

Technology in overdrive

Steve Fosselman is the director of Grand Island Public Libraries. Grand Island is one of 70 Nebraska libraries that have access to OverDrive. It's administrated by the Nebraska Library Commission. It's like iTunes, but instead of buying an eBook or audio book, the public rents it. In addition to OverDrive, Grand Island libraries offer the public remote services, so people can check out and research from their home computers.

"I don't think this is anything new, at all, we've been around for over 125 years, so in that time we've seen a lot of different adaptions of technology," Fosselman said.

Grand Island libraries had a 10 percent budget reduction this year and an 8 percent next year.

"We did have to reduce our staffing numbers this last year in general. We were able to do that through attrition, we didn't have to lay anybody off, it does impact our quality and access, we had to reduce our hours slightly," Fosselman said. "We reduced 5 hours but we did it in a way that has greatly impacted the public, coming year become a difficult task for us."

A hard decision

The city library in the southeastern Nebraska town of Fairbury is also having to make some tough decisions.

The library in this town of just under 3,000 people also lends books out to smaller town libraries in nearby Daykin and Alexandria.

"We're now looking at this next budget year. It's going to be staff or content. We'd like to increase, get into e-readers, don't offer that," said Fairbury Library Director Karen Fox. "We'd like to get involved with OverDrive, but that's about 1,000 dollar cost, even though the library commission picks up fees."

Fox is considering moving funding from library databases into investing in ebook services. She says in the last 6 months people have been asking about ebooks. But the overall demand for library use has to be there. Population loss has affected how many people visit libraries in rural communities. Fox says as farms continue to get bigger, there are less families in the area. So there are fewer people using library services. But Rod Wagner, director for the Nebraska library commission, remains optimistic.

Clay Masters, NET News

Population loss in rural communities has hurt attendance numbers in small town libraries. The Fairbury Library will lose content or staff next year.

Relying on the community

"I'm hopeful that the economy will continue to improve and we'll see more stability, of course that's hopeful thinking," said Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner. "I'd like to think that'd be the case that that will stabilize, people are very supportive of their libraries and recognize the value of libraries in a community, so I think when needs are there, people step up and make sure their libraries are supported as well as they can be."

But for libraries like the one in Fairbury, the need is urgent. Fairbury experienced a 7-point-5 percent population drop from 2000 to 2010. Again, Fairbury library director, Karen Fox.

"I've been fortunate not to have really limit my staff in past years. It's going to happen this year. We're coming to crunch," said Fox. "This year we're really going to be looking at where are the dollars coming from. And quite frankly, I don't know, we don't have a way for generating revenue."

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