State Workers

State Library faces cuts

A big round of spending cuts is coming to the Washington State Library, and agency leaders said it means 31 lost jobs and elimination of work to preserve many of the state's oldest historic documents.

The layoff notices are going out Jan. 25 and taking effect through the end of June. It’s the latest in a series of job cuts by agencies forced to operate with fewer dollars.

State librarian Jan Walsh said that some cuts must begin taking effect in February to meet the demands of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s supplemental budget plan. Gregoire proposed to cut $2 million over the two-year cycle ending June 2011, reducing library funding to about $11.5 million, state budget writers say.

It means that by the end of June, 31 people or 25.7 full-time equivalent jobs will be cut, Walsh said in an interview Monday at the Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees her Tumwater-based library operation.

“It’s over a third of our staff, if the governor’s budget goes through, which is what makes this so devastating,’’ Walsh said.

Likely cuts include:

 • Four public services staffers, including reference desk employees.

 • Five technical services staffers, including those who acquire and catalogue materials.

 • Five and a half from prison and mental hospital libraries.

 • Seven of the 9.5 positions in preservation, which means little or no work to microfilm rare papers and old newspapers that are turned over to the state for its Northwest collections.

 • 3.7 positions or half the staff for the Talking Book and Braille Library in Seattle, including the lone children’s librarian.

Spokesmen for the governor’s Office of Financial Management said the cuts are unfortunate and likely, if lawmakers do not chart a different course on the budget, which closes a $2.6 billion shortfall.

“I think a lot of programs are facing the same kind of future. In no way does it reflect any lack of appreciation for the importance of the work they do,” OFM spokesman Glenn Kuper said. “Rather it is a reflection of the tough times that very useful programs are being reduced or eliminated because of the situation. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality we face.’’

Kuper said the secretary of state has competing priorities between its library and election work, and that election work has to take priority.

Assistant Secretary of State Steve Excell, whose agency took over the library after budget cuts earlier in the decade, said the library has faced constant erosion of funding since 1999. At the same time, the library has seen a more than two-fold explosion in use — to 2.8 million transactions, including use of online maps and online history books and actual visitors to the library.

The cuts, if carried out, would bring the total effect of cuts over the decade to 36.4 percent of funding and 51 percent of staffing. Walsh said a $1.23 million increase in biennial rent and utility costs caused by the Legislature’s decision to move the agency off campus to Tumwater in 2001 has led to deeper cuts in staffing over that time.

At least one Olympia area lawmaker is pledging to fight the cuts.

“I think cuts in this area, particularly, defeat the spirit of state government openness. As a member of the General Government Appropriations Committee, I’ll see what can be done to save funding for the State Library,” Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams said in an e-mail. “This example illustrates, again, how the 22nd Legislative District is under siege from last session’s no-new-taxes budget; had I had more support in opposing that budget we could have avoided the entirely foreseeable calamity we’re in now. It’s impossible for me to imagine circumstances in which I’ll support a state budget this session.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed and his staff have not suggested where the state should find additional money to avoid the cuts, but Reed said in a statement the cuts should be avoided.

The staffing cuts would suspend work to preserve first- edition historical papers the state has in its library treasure, according to Excell.

Washington is among states that have original copies of a “serial set” of the original U.S. laws, and it also has territorial books that the original Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens had shipped from the East Coast, Excell and Walsh said.

Those documents have value — a serial set of U.S. laws at the Bronx public library were appraised at $16 million, Walsh said.

The agency’s choices on where to cut were limited in part because it receives federal aid for services for what are called underserved or vulnerable populations — including those who are blind and others in prisons. That aid comes with strings that require what’s called “a maintenance of effort,” which requires about $1.8 million in state spending on the services.

As a compromise, Walsh said she wants to restore $987,000 of Gregoire’s proposed cut to show the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services that the state is maintaining its funding.

  Comments