By Judy Hoffman, North Suburban Library System

On January 20, 2010, Illinois’ regional multi-type library systems sent a message to supporters to “go forth and rally online to get Systems their overdue state funding.” In just over 24 hours, 10,000 library supporters sent more than 20,000 e-mails to the offices of the Illinois Governor and the Comptroller, demanding payment of fiscal year 2010 funding.

Funding for the Illinois Library Systems (ILS) comes in the form of an annual grant from the Illinois Secretary of State based on appropriations from the General Assembly. Since the start of the fiscal year on July 1, 2009, the Illinois Library Systems had not received any of their authorized funds.

By the morning of January 22, most of the systems had reported receiving a partial payment from the state. The systems received 35% of the 50% that should have been received by December 31.

Origins and model for e-mail campaign

The e-mail campaign to the Governor and the Comptroller was modeled after a successful effort in Florida to save state funding for public libraries. The May 2009 campaign, lead by the Florida Library Association, was centered on an “Email the Governor” website/service provided by the Southeast Florida Library Information Network (SEFLIN). Tom Sloan, director at SEFLIN during the Florida campaign, is now in Illinois, serving as executive director for the DuPage Library System.

The fiscal crisis in Illinois is considered the worst in the nation after California. Illinois has a $13 billion shortfall for a $26 billion dollar budget. System funding in Illinois has been flat for 18 years. The January 20 e-mail rally was the second leg of a funding campaign that began after the ILS funding was cut 16.5% in August. At first the budget was cut 50%, but the Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White was able to revise his budget and move monies around to reduce the cut to only 16.5%.

“Immediately after the August budget cut, I asked our staff to build the framework for a statewide advocacy campaign,” said Sarah Long, executive director, North Suburban Library System (NSLS). “Not one legislator we spoke with had anything positive to say about the near or long-term future budget. There was no time to waste.”

NSLS staff created the Save Illinois Libraries website and supporting Facebook fan page, and then worked with the other systems and the Illinois Library Association to get state legislators up to speed on the cuts. Legislators were asked to sign a pledge to oppose any additional cuts and restore appropriated funds when additional state funding becomes available in the future.

“We didn’t get the overwhelming response we expected,” said Long. “We were challenged to get the ear of the legislators amongst the many organizations also suffering from state budget cuts.”

Campaign will need to continue to keep ILS doors open

By January 1, 2010, most of the regional systems had to consider more drastic measures to keep their doors open. Service cuts and layoffs were widespread. NSLS had to take out a loan, adding a 6% loan interest to the burden.

All services the ILS provides to member libraries are in danger, but the one the member libraries are most anxious about is the ILS delivery service that supports interlibrary loan and reciprocal borrowing. Last year ILS trucks delivered over 28 million items between libraries around the state.

Illinois Library Systems partner with the Illinois State Library to coordinate special library services for the blind and physically disabled, including free talking book and Braille service. This popular resource is also teetering on the brink due to delays in payment from the state. The program has only received 3% of its state funding this fiscal year.

Through the campaign, the public learned how libraries depend on the ILS to negotiate discounts for the wide range of online resources that many would not be able to afford to purchase on their own. The campaign was covered by broadcast, print, and online media throughout the state.

I believe this effort signals a new era for regional library systems,” said Joe Harris, executive director, Shawnee Library System. “We worked together fast and focused, bringing an unprecedented level of recognition around the state both from the public and the media.”

“This is only a reprieve. The fight to keep our doors open is far from over,” said Beverly Obert, chair of the Illinois Library System Directors Organization, and executive director of the Rolling Prairie Library System. “Where will the remaining 65% come from this fiscal year? We’ve looked at the well from where the rest of our funds should come-and it is almost dry. The campaign will continue until our funding is restored.”