Business & Economy

Libraries budgets strained by recession, technology demands

Patrons use public computers at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger
Patrons use public computers at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

Vermont has the most libraries per capita in the country. But not all of them are up to speed. Twenty-four libraries in the state still lack wireless Internet, according to Vermont public library statistics.

The Department of Libraries sees a strong need to invest in technology to keep patrons coming. At the same time, grants and other funding have decreased in the wake of the economic downturn. With level or decreased income, funding the new technology and training for staff has become an economic burden that many libraries are struggling to carry.

“You can’t think about libraries without technology,” said Martha Reid, Vermont’s state librarian. “The kind of things they are offering are expanding and their budgets are not keeping up with these changes.”

The total municipal funding has increased slightly, according to data collected by the Department of Libraries. But as Vermont doesn’t provide state funding to libraries, it is up to cities and towns to decide how much they want to spend on library services each year.

Data from the Department of Libraries also show that in total, Vermont libraries are spending more than they receive.

The report for 2012 shows that payroll and other expenses went up by $780,000 statewide. When total collection expenditures (acquired books and media) are added in, expenses went up $860,000. Meanwhile, total income from all sources increased by approximately $720,000. That leaves a lot of Vermont libraries facing deficits.

With 183 libraries, Vermont has the most libraries per capita in the country, but many smaller libraries have a slow modernization curve due to lack of funding.

“We are unique in the number of libraries we have, but many are small, part time and underfunded,” said Jeannette Bair, director at the Rochester Public Library.

With a yearly budget of $60,000, the Rochester library has very little to spend on technology. Four of the library’s seven computers were given as donations.

And technology is not the first thing on many libraries’ agenda. For the past five years they have been setting aside money to make their buildings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Rochester, the project, which will break ground in September, should have been done 25 years ago, Bair said.

Beyond books

The state library association has been pushing for more technology training for years, said Laurel Stanley, president of the VLA Trustees Section.

“The typical librarian is not older ladies that love books,” she said. “Small libraries need librarians that are trained, and we need to pay them.”

Technology competes with books for shrinking library dollars. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger
Technology competes with books for shrinking library dollars. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

Libraries are vital places for people to get connected with government’s support systems, and it is during financial hard times that they are the most needed. That is also when funding is most likely to decline, said Rubi Simon, director at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington.

“People need the library to get food stamps and government support,” she said. “For people that don’t have computers and Internet connection, that’s where they go to get these services.”

With a level-funded budget last year, large libraries like the Fletcher Free Library are relying on external funding to invest in technology. “Any tech programs or new programs we want to run, we have to raise our own money,” Simon said.

While the number of grants shrank during the financial crisis, the competition between libraries is also a factor.

”Many libraries apply for the same funds, and there are just not as many funds out there,” Simon said.

Some larger municipally funded libraries have opened marketing departments and started with fundraising campaigns to bring in money for special projects, said Reid, the state librarian. The Department of Libraries has also started to offer training in fundraising and advocacy.

One library’s approach

Like its counterparts, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier is investing in more technology. Despite dealing with a smaller budget, the library’s technology expenses have more than doubled. In 2012, the library spent $12,691 on technology; in the 2013-14 budget, it plans to spend $27,600.

About 30 percent of Kellogg-Hubbard’s budget comes from municipal funding, and it relies on fundraising and grants for the other two-thirds. The budget for 2012 was $896,000, but with its reserves gone, the library must adhere to a decreased budget of $860,000 for the fiscal year 2013-2014.

Part of the savings will come from a new model of leadership, library officials say. The library used to be run by two managing directors, but since Richard Bidnick took over the director position in 2012, the library has a more concentrated leadership structure, he said.

There are essentially two kinds of libraries in Vermont. Municipal libraries, such as the Fletcher Free Library, receive most — and sometimes all of their funding — from cities and towns; incorporated libraries, such as the Kellogg-Hubbard, are usually run as nonprofit organizations and rely on fundraising.


In times with financial strains, the library still sees it as vital to offer more free technology to patrons. The library is looking to hire a part-time staffer to work entirely with technology and to teach computer skills to visitors, said Tanya Morehouse, board treasurer.

The library also received a Google grant to set up a conference call system for its meeting rooms and is part of the FiberConnect program, initiated by the Department of Libraries, which will provide the library with 10 to 20 times faster Internet service.

“There is a real strong ethic that the library should be free to the public, and we don’t have any plans to charge for computers,” Bidnick said.

The only charges the library makes is fines for overdue materials and small fees for the use of meeting rooms, Bidnick said.

How libraries works

There are essentially two kinds of libraries in Vermont. Municipal libraries, such as the Fletcher Free Library, receive most — and sometimes all of their funding — from cities and towns; incorporated libraries, such as the Kellogg-Hubbard, are usually run as nonprofit organizations and rely on fundraising.

According to statistics collected by the Department of Libraries, municipal funding made up an average of 25 percent of the total budget for incorporated libraries in Vermont in 2012, while municipally funded libraries received an average of 82 percent of their revenue from cities and towns.

Of the 183 libraries in Vermont, 93 are run as municipal libraries and 61 libraries are run as incorporated libraries, according to data from the Department of Libraries. Several libraries didn’t respond to the state survey, but can be considered incorporated libraries, Reid said.

There are also about a dozen communal libraries in Vermont, which are run in cooperation with educational institutions. They have two distinct staffs, but parts of the book collection and other resources are shared. The largest community library in Vermont is the South Burlington Community Library, which is run together with South Burlington High School, Reid said.

Vermont is one of the eight states in the U.S. that does not provide direct state funding for libraries. That is something that the Vermont Library Association tried to change with a campaign in 2007, asking the Legislature to distribute $1.6 million on top of the money that the libraries receive from municipalities. Such direct aid would have given each library a minimum grant of $1,500, depending on budget and statistical data.

The campaign failed, and the organization has no plans for a similar campaign in 2014, Stanley said.

However, some state money is indirectly spent on libraries. The Department of Libraries receives funding from the state, and it gives some of it to local libraries as grants. It awarded more than $60,000 in 2013.

Among the Department of Libraries’ duties is to provide continuing education and certification for library employees and to administer the Web2 catalog — the electronic interlibrary loan network — and the Vermont Online Library, an online resource that patrons connected to subscribing libraries can access from home or at from library computers.

Recently, a large sum of the department’s budget has been spent on technology projects. The department has purchased equipment such as routers, switches and access points for 43 libraries in the Vermont FiberConnect broadband project, which is done together with the Vermont Telecommunications Authority and Sovernet. The total upgrade, which is still in progress, will come to approximately $190,000, and the project will provide the participating libraries with faster Internet services, said Reid.

A closer study shows that the total budget for Vermont Department of Libraries went up from about $3.4 million in 2013 to $3.8 million for 2014.

The additional money will be used to fund the FiberConnect, and to pay salary and benefits for an administrator of the library Wide Area Network, Reid said.

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  • Matt Fisken

    Is there a way to find out which libraries are not microwaving their patrons (lack wifi)?

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find public space, especially libraries, that are not blanketed in electrosmog. One would think, with the decades of research showing biological effects from radio frequency radiation that all of these precious, public places of learning wouldn’t ignore this information, discriminate agains electrosensitive (microwave injured) individuals and expose all visitors to this IARC Group 2B Carcinogen whether or not they are using wifi, just to attract laptop/iPad users.

    I’m even aware of one library that placed its router under the library catalog computer, so simply looking up a book puts ones reproductive organs within about a foot of the transmitter.

    • John Greenberg

      “One would think, with the decades of research showing biological effects from radio frequency radiation that” there would be a discernible rise in all of the diseases supposedly caused by this radiation. After all, as you note, most people in the developed world are exposed to it a very high percentage of the time.

      So where’s the epidemic? Which diseases? Some documentation?

    • John Mandeville

      And what decades of research would that be, Matt. I have never come across any scientifically validated research showing any ill effects from wifi or any other radio transmittal system from that matter.

    • Matt Fisken

      John and John,

      The links below only scratch the surface so I apologize if, by themselves, they are not convincing. (Like car keys, just because you might not be able to find them immediately does not mean they do not exist). I hope it goes without saying that there are significant economic, political, medical and military interests that would prefer we not consider EMF (including RFR) to be a health risk. Please consider that like countless other agents known to cause biological harm, RF exposures may often be enjoyable/exciting due to our body’s adrenalin and cortisol response. Also, while it is tempting to set the bar high and only consider “scientifically validated research” to be conclusions that are demonstrated 100% of the time, this kind of rigid approach has been used time and time again by those promoting/using tobacco, asbestos, DDT, lead, etc, etc. Not surprisingly, most studies funded by the wireless industry find “no conclusive cause and effect.”

      “Just as the effort was getting underway in 1948 to study the possible uses of the new microwave diathermy, two groups of researchers, at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Iowa, reported results that would have a drastic impact on the future of the field. Both groups discovered, apparently independently of each other’s work, hazardous effects that stemmed from microwave exposure.”

      It should be interesting to most that the US Government would install RF shielding to protect its diplomats from levels of RF thousands of times lower than US “safety standards” at the time and then pay out of court damages to a widower of a diplomat who died of cancer allegedly due to microwave exposure in the Moscow embassy. – The BioInitiative report

      “The great strength of the BioInitiative Report is that it has been done independent of governments, existing bodies and industry professional societies that have clung to old standards. Precisely because of this, the BioInitiative Report presents a solid scientific and public health policy assessment that is evidence-based.” (this is not “documentation” – just a helpful document for people who are dealing with health effects caused by EMF.)

      • John Greenberg

        I’ve looked at all the links you provided. None of them even suggests an epidemic of diseases, which should by now have manifested itself if this “electrosmog” were really harmful. I’m using your term, since I really don’t even know exactly what radiation you believe to be of concern and which not.

        My point is simple. Just as you say, human beings in massive numbers have been the guinea pigs in an uncontrolled experiment in recent years: “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find public space, especially libraries, that are not blanketed in electrosmog.” In addition to public space, there are cell phones which are now in use by literally billions of people around the world. In other words, for good or ill, people HAVE subjected themselves to this radiation in vast numbers. Additionally, all this is new: just to choose an arbitary date, 4 decades ago, most of this exposure didn’t exist. (Or, to the extent it DID exist, exposed VERY small populations).

        If, as you suggest, this “electrosmog” really caused the things that some of these articles list, then we should be seeing the effects in the now-exposed population. If the incidence of any of these symptoms has significantly increased after the massive introduction of “electrosmog” into the human environment, then we can at least ASK whether there is any possibility of causation. If not, then either the diseases follow at a suspiciously lengthy time lag, or the “electrosmog” would appear to be as “innocent” as the mainstream scientific and regulatory community seems to believe it to be. In short, by now mass exposure should have caused an epidemic (or even a pandemic), and to my knowledge, no such evidence exists.

        So the evidence I’m looking for is ANY evidence of an INCREASE in a disease (syndrome, symptom, etc.) that you claim is caused by these waves. (Symptoms like sleep loss, headaches, depression, etc. have always been widespread. What we should be seeing is a significant INCREASE in the numbers).

        I’m not aware of any such evidence. That suggests to me that you don’t even have a prima facie case for your repeated allegation.

        • Matt Fisken

          John, Thanks for your thoughtful response.

          To be clear, the kind of radiation I am referring to which has most dramatically increased in the past 20 years and has affected my health the most is digitally modulated pulsed radio frequency radiation. I am not “alleging” that it is harmful to human health. This has been shown by scientists decades before I was even alive. If you question their findings, I’m sorry that I am not in a position to clarify them for you. I am alleging that the psychology of previous investment (JHK), monetary conflicts of interests and attraction of convenience are more powerful than the precautionary principle. You are welcome to disagree.

          I share this information so that others may be able to avoid some of difficulty I’ve been through negotiating these relatively novel exposures. As someone who experiences ACUTE reactions to RFR, it is painfully clear to me that these emissions are not benefitting people’s health. My physiological responses to devices and infrastructure that emit this energy predated my awareness of it’s effects, so it is clearly not an idiopathic or psychosomatic response. Since learning to measure, mitigate, and avoid such exposures, my symptoms have decreased dramatically. A person who is skeptical of the risks of these exposures can easily test for themselves by either turning off wireless emitters in their house for a number of days, or inversely, placing all of their devices (wifi routers, DECT phone base stations, cell phones, wireless speakers) next to their bed for a few nights.

          John writes, “So the evidence I’m looking for is ANY evidence of an INCREASE in a disease (syndrome, symptom, etc.) that you claim is caused by these waves. (Symptoms like sleep loss, headaches, depression, etc. have always been widespread. What we should be seeing is a significant INCREASE in the numbers).”

          Where have you looked? I hear on the news all the time that these symptoms are on the rise. Doctors are stumped as to the cause(s), but what do you know? They’ve got a pill for that!

          I suppose asthmatics and children could have similarly been held accountable for proving that first hand and second hand cigarette smoke is harmful when it was not common knowledge, but that just doesn’t seem fair (IMHO). I’m hopeful that even the most addictive, unhealthy substances/agents can be exposed and avoided in a caring and progressive society.

          Look how far we’ve come!


  • “You can’t think about libraries without technology.”

    Perhaps we should. Libraries were originally about access to books – not email.

    While it is completely true that access to the internet is extremely important for working Vermonters, how does it follow that the onus for providing this is on…public libraries?

    It is also rather curious that while Vermont does not provide funding for these libraries, it does provide funding for employees of a “Department of Libraries.”

    Looking at the issue of providing Vermonters with computer and internet access separately might help clarify the muddled and mostly haphazard network of unfunded mandates, here.

    (While many coffee shops and even bars provide free wi-fi, it’s worth noting they’re not providing their patrons with free computers to connect with.)

    • Jerry Carbone

      It is not access to books, but access to knowledge and information, whatever that format may be and what it may become.

      And it is also the assistance and expertise that adequately funded libraries can provide.

      Public libraries assist citizens with their information and life-long learning needs from cradle to grave. What other institution would be the best fit to offer computer and Internet access…the US Postal Service (which was once considered as an “on ramp to the super information highway” back in the 1990’s?)

  • Bud Haas

    You might want to follow up this story with a piece about the Green Mtn Library Consortium, created to fill several tech voids during the Douglas years. The state just didn’t keep up with electronic catalogs, language training, and ebooks, so some 35 plus libraries went on their own to do these things.
    Now the state is trying to do catch-up.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    I agree with Matt. Libraries and all other public spaces should be as free from EMFs as possible.

    There is also a bigger problem in Vermont. I do not know how widespread it is, but there is at least one public tax supported library in Vermont that banns books based on political content. I have been told by a library employee that they ‘shred’ certain books to keep them off the shelves. That is the modern version of book burning.

    The national association of libraries has a formal written policy against book banning, but they also have a policy against any enforcement.

    I wonder how many Vermonters know that their First Amendment rights have been suspended.

  • Jim Barrett

    Welcome to Vermont, the state that has at least fundraiser a week for something. The economic picture in Vermont is so terrible that non profits, the state are always looking for creative ways to make more money off a limited number of people and makes for a broke society.

  • tom smith

    Vermont Libraries are struggling to keep up with the rest of the country as our overall municipal financial support is very low. We are not able to get or recruit many top notch professionals because the salaries are low and we are desperate for individuals who understand how libraries are changing and how by not doing anything is totally unacceptable. Our public libraries are our windows on the world and they need to be expanded and enhanced. To sum up a famous quote of Walter Cronkites ” Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

    Whether people understand it or not with out all of the new technological upgrades we do a disservice to our public by doing nothing. We all need to embrace change and realize that without it the alternative is stagnation.

    • Matt Fisken

      I don’t think anyone is recommending we “do nothing.”

      Having spent a number of years working with technology in a library, I will suggest that not all “change” is “progress.”

      Despite the number of wireless devices on the market today, it is STILL possible to access information online without exposing ourselves and our children to radio frequency radiation. That so many institutions of learning now resist wired networks while advertising “free wifi” suggests we have relegated very important information to the discard bin at the expense of the collective good.

  • John Mandeville

    I was born and raised in California, lived in NY state for 12 years and in England for 7. Vermont may have the most libraries per capita of any state but it surely has the most poorly funded system among the states. This is mostly due to the fact that elsewhere, libraries are funded on a countywide basis. As Vermont for all intents and purposes has no county government, there is no mechanism for counties to fund and operate a county library system.

  • Matt Fisken

    While 24 libraries lack wireless internet (not required to access the internet), 63 lack a subscription to the Vermont Online Library. For a library that serves a town of 2,500 residents (most without are <2,500), that would be $175 a year.