Lowcountry librarians say two of Gov. Mark Sanford's budget vetoes threaten to devastate public libraries and deliver a crushing blow to people looking for work.
If the vetoes are not overridden by the Legislature next week, library officials said Friday, there likely will be no new books next year at libraries across the state, nor will branches be able to subscribe to, among other things, databases used by the unemployed to find jobs and by public schoolchildren.
"It's a dire situation," said Donna Osborne, director of the Berkeley County Library System. "If the vetoes aren't overridden, this will not only cost all our state funding, but federal funding as well."
At issue is about $6 million the state allocates to county libraries, which is in addition to county funds that pay for most services. But those state dollars leverage federal grants of more than $2.7 million, and librarians say those federal dollars are now in jeopardy.
In most library systems, the state money is used to buy materials -- books, DVDs, subscriptions to magazines and databases not otherwise available to the general public. Some smaller systems, however, use the money to pay staff and even utility bills.
In his veto message, Sanford said he had decided "that fully funding local libraries does not rise to the level of many of our other core services such as law enforcement and health care." Sanford said that libraries are also supported by lottery funds, and suggested that counties raise other money for the libraries.
But the S.C. Education Lottery has not given money to public libraries in two years, and then it was only $1 million parceled out among the 46 counties. Much lottery money, library directors said, has been diverted to higher education -- which has suffered even more budget cuts in recent years.
"In this tough economy, South Carolina libraries already have faced dramatic budget cuts from both state and local governments," said Sharon M. Harvey, president of the Friends of the Charleston County Public Library. "In the past two years, state aid for libraries was slashed 41 percent. Effectively, if these vetoes stand, public libraries in South Carolina will receive no state money."
Meanwhile, counties are also cutting library budgets. Charleston County has cut its library budgets so much that 20 positions are vacant and branch libraries have been forced to cut back on hours and close on Sundays.
"Any additional budget cuts will only add to our struggle to serve the residents who need us the most," said Cynthia Bledsoe, acting executive director of the Charleston County Public Library. "This cut will impact our ability to keep our collection updated and make sure patrons can access the latest in books, DVDs and CDs."
For libraries in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, the cuts amount to several hundred thousand dollars. Those three counties devote most state money to capital expenditures, such as materials. No money for materials means patrons won't be able to read new books for free anymore, library officials said.
While lawmakers have indicated they intend to let many of Sanford's vetoes stand, library directors, board members and groups, such as county friends of the library, have been lobbying legislators and intend to converge on the Statehouse Tuesday -- and are inviting library supporters to join them in a growing grassroots effort.
Many library officials said Friday they have received words of support from many House members, but they need two-thirds of the 124 House members to override the veto. And then the Senate has to agree to an override as well.
At the same time, libraries have turned to their patrons and customers, asking them to call or write lawmakers to get this reversed. The vetoes, they argue, save only 98 cents per person in the state -- but cost untold amounts of money in benefits to residents of South Carolina.
"This is going to devastate libraries statewide," said Frank Bruno, Dorchester County's library director.