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Sacramento’s public libraries face steep cuts

California’s ongoing budget problems are creating a story without a happy ending for Sacramento’s public libraries.

The Sacramento City Council—facing a $39 million budget deficit—has approved nearly $800,000 in preliminary cuts for the 10 libraries within Sacramento city limits beginning in July. As part of those cuts, a branch library may close, other libraries may reduce hours and days open, and fewer books and other materials purchased.

Already Sacramento public libraries have lost about a quarter of their funding from the city’s general fund since 2008. The library system also receives funding from the state and a dedicated tax passed by voters, Measure X. The state’s contribution to the Sacramento libraries is also expected to decline in the next year, as part of up to $15 million in statewide cuts to libraries.

For Sacramento’s libraries, this translates to more than $1 million in lost funds and cutbacks throughout the system from staffing to materials acquisitions to computer maintenance and upgrades.

“These cuts ultimately affect the ability of libraries to provide services to increasing numbers of users,” Stacey Aldrich, California’s state librarian, told SN&R. Aldrich noted that three state programs to help local libraries are expected to decrease by about 18 million in 2011-2012. She added that “there is concern about the future of equal access to resources in the state.”

After-school homework-help programs for students in grades four through 12 are also set to end at the Martin Luther King Jr. and Colonial Heights libraries. The McKinley Library may also close, as a result of a proposed closure of the Clunie Community Center. The Sacramento library system also expects to cut hours and days open at some branches on a rolling basis, and impose a hiring freeze.

In hard numbers, the $792,121 shortfall (about 10 percent of the current city funding) would include 5,000 fewer books purchased, a 50 percent cut in security services at libraries, losing an 80 percent rebate for technology from the federal government, freezing seven positions and jeopardizing roughly $4.5 million in funding from the Measure X parcel tax. To keep that Measure X funding, the city would have to restore some of the lost funding next year—a situation the library system sees as unlikely due to the stalled economy.

If that happens, the future for libraries looks even bleaker.

A city staff report anticipates five or more branches closing if Measure X funding is lost.

All of this is still pending Sacramento’s final budget, with final decisions on the libraries to be made this month. But with the struggling economy and state and local budget gaps, the next chapter for Sacramento’s public libraries doesn’t look to be a good one.