The Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin Legislature is holding one of their regional budget hearings in Appleton today. There was a huge turnout at Lawrence University. I felt I needed to testify in support of public libraries.
Libraries are reasonably well-served in the budget: if we're getting less of what we asked for, we're getting a great deal of what we need. We're feeling the squeeze of significant increases in use and flat or decreasing funding. The Governor has done right to support library systems, which in turn support local libraries. To do this, he has moved more of state funding for library services off the income tax and is funding it via the Universal Service Fund, which comes from a surcharge on phone bills. This plan was attacked by our State Senator, Mike Ellis, so I felt some need to defend it. You can read a copy of Sen. Ellis's critique and my response on the FoxPolitics blog.
Here's my written testimony as submitted to the Committee:
Members of the Joint Finance Committee:
My name is Terry Dawson. I serve as the Director of the Appleton Public Library, and am a member and Past President of the Wisconsin Library Association.
I support the 2009-2011 budget bill, as introduced by the Joint Finance Committee, which provides a Universal Service Fund appropriation to fund specific library services: BadgerLink, Public Library System Aids, the Statewide Resource-Sharing Contracts, and Newsline for the Blind.
The original act that established the Universal Service Fund, 1993 Wisconsin Act 496, states that the fund shall give priority to: "local units of government, educational institutions and libraries". To that end, I served as a public library representative, appointed by Governor Thompson, on the Universal Service Fund Council, advising the PSC on fund disbursement, for two terms, beginning in 1994.
In recent years, library systems have become increasingly focused on and built around telecommunications-based services to local communities; technology has evolved systems into networks. Thus state support coming from the Universal Service Fund, as opposed to income tax, makes good sense, is consistent with the purpose of the Universal Service Fund, and makes it possible to sustain critically important library services.
During these difficult economic times, library use has increased dramatically, and use of telecommunications services provided through libraries has been even more dramatic, as we provide increased support for job seekers and those who have lost access to other resources. At our library alone, users logged 12,899 hours on public computers in the first two months of 2009, a 60% increase from the previous year. These computers access the Internet over connections provided through our library system. Systems are provide open access and communications services -- effectively promoting collaboration to level the playing field, and create opportunities for all Wisconsin residents.
The Appleton Public Library has over 84,000 library card holders, and more than 1,600 people per day come through our doors. Every item checked out, every web page viewed, every database search, every use of the catalog – these are all made possible through services provided by the Outagamie Waupaca Library System, funded through this budget. Vital access to information and materials occurs through BadgerLink, Resource-sharing and Newsline.
I urge you to use this budget, as introduced, to help sustain our library and all of Wisconsin’s public libraries as we work to create equal opportunities for your constituents to learn and enrich their lives.