Funding, hours slashed at Washington State Library

Staff writerJune 10, 2014 

The Washington State Library is reducing its hours for the public almost in half, part of the library’s plan to meet a $1 million funding shortfall over the next year.

Beginning Monday, the library won’t be open mornings, but those who walk into the Tumwater facility will still get help between noon and 5 p.m. each day. The reduced hours are the result of the elimination of two positions.

Officials say 16,875 patrons used the library in person in 2013, for a daily average of a little more than 67 people. Peak usage comes in the afternoon.

The library also handled 7,000 email requests for information, 763 chat requests and 435 queries by phone last year.

“We have been doing planning to address the budget reductions for several months,” State Librarian Rand Simmons said Monday. “Hope springs eternal. We thought it would turn around when the spring came. It didn’t.”

Secretary of State Kim Wyman said her agency’s budget for the library comes from a state account that relies on recording fees tied to real estate transactions. Those revenues started tapering off in November when home loan refinancing slowed, and the result is an expected shortfall of $1 million for the library through the end of the two-year budget cycle.

Wyman said her office didn’t know the funding shortfall was a trend, and not a blip, until February’s recording-fee data came in — which happened in March. The timing meant it was too late to warn the Legislature, which adjourned March 13.

In 2013, lawmakers cut the library’s budget from $9 million to $8.4 million, making it dependent on the recording-fee data. The new shortfall reduces its expected financing to about $7.4 million, and staff cuts could not be avoided, Wyman said.

The secretary of state intends to ask lawmakers for new money during next year’s legislative session, and she plans to ask that the library be financed out of the state general fund again. Cuts over the years have reduced staff from 158 full-time equivalent positions at the turn of the last century to about 63.5 today.

“The State Library staff have become more efficient in their operations over the past 10 years, providing the same general level of services while reducing our employee count by 42 percent,” Wyman said in a statement. “We have reached the point where we must reduce our in-person hours at the central library, at least temporarily, because of additional staff cuts.”

Simmons said the cuts won’t affect popular programs such as the Talking Book and Braille Library in Seattle, and institutional libraries at state hospitals and prisons will be spared.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

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