Politics & Government

State Library to close to the public during mornings due to a fresh round of budget cuts

The Washington State Library is reducing its hours for the public by nearly half starting next week, the result of cutting two positions. The cuts are part of the library’s plan to meet a $1 million funding shortfall over the next year.

The library won’t be open mornings any longer but those who walk into the Tumwater facility will still get help between noon and 5 p.m. each day when the reductions begin June 16.

Officials say 16,875 patrons used the library in person in 2013, which averaged a little over 67 people per day, and 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 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 the timing was such that her office didn’t know with the funding shortfall was a trend, and not a blip, until February’s recording-fee data came in - which occurred during March. The timing meant it was too late to approach the Legislature, which was wrapping up its supplemental budget and adjourning on March 13, she said.

This latest reductions in library funding is accidental, in contrast to the years of shrinking budgets that began when Gary Locke was governor and cuts were intentional. At one point Locke proposed eliminating the library altogether.

The secretary of state does intend to ask lawmakers for new money next session for the 2015-17 biennium, and she plans to ask that the library be financed out of the state general fund again.

Wyman said her allotment for the library shrank at the beginning of the budget cycle that began last July to about $8.4 million, down from $9 million, she said. The new shortfall reduces her expected financing to about $7.4 million, and staff cuts could not be avoided. 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.