Connecting moms in Polk County, Fla.
I wonder what our Polk County libraries have had to go through in the last years of budget cuts?
In Sarasota and across the country, libraries have been consistently targeted for budget cuts as governments seek to trim spending in the recession.
County and state support for Sarasota libraries has been cut every year since 2007, when the budget was about $13.5 million. The library system's current budget of $10.4 million is what it was in 2002, when there were only six libraries compared to nine now. Hours have been reduced, and no library remains open on Sunday afternoons. Staffing as well has been reduced by 28 percent since its peak, said Library General Manager Sarabeth Kalajian.
But now, a group of influential community leaders, led by former County Commissioner Shannon Staub, has come together to form the Library Foundation For Sarasota County to protect and even bolster library spending and offerings.
The organization will raise private funds to complement public tax support of county libraries. Its mission is to address big-picture, systemwide needs rather than supplant Friends of the Library groups, which provide support for individual libraries.
"People love libraries here and they want to see them survive and thrive," said Staub.
The Sarasota County Libraries enjoy heavy usage, with 10,000 people visiting one of the nine libraries each day, and 30,000 people logging onto the online library daily. Nearly three-quarters of Sarasota County residents hold library cards.
The foundation's launch comes on the heels of the library system being named Library of the Year by the Florida Library Association. Its first project will be a yearlong educational campaign celebrating the award.
With a Selby Foundation grant and other donated funds, the foundation has seed money of more than $100,000, said board member Charlie Huisking.
Kalajian said she hopes the foundation will be able to restore the libraries' collection, which has seen an 80 percent reduction in funding in the past five years.
"The single thing that I think has suffered the most in these decreased years has been our library collection," she said, referring not simply to physical books but to the ever-growing demand for e-books.
"It's such an exciting time for libraries to explore all the variety of formats," she said. "We want to be in on that action. We hear from folks every day that they love that we have e-books, but they'd like to see more, more copies and more selection."
The new foundation is modeled after a very successful library foundation in St. Paul, Minn., which in recent years has raised up to $2 million for enhanced technology, after-school programs and improved collections.
"When I look at their annual report and see the extraordinary things that a library foundation can do to enhance outreach and access, that to me is a shining example," Kalajian said.