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Columnist
Regional libraries have not received a funding increase since 1989
By Sarah Long | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/10/2010 12:02 AM

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The frog experiment: Throw a frog into a pot of boiling water. He'll hop right out. The water's too hot and what self-respecting frog wants to boil to death? Place a frog in a pot of tepid water on the stove, he will swim around happily. Turn up the heat gradually until the water boils. Eventually, the unsuspecting frog will die.

The moral of the story for frogs: beware of pots of water on stoves, whatever the water temperature.

Regional library systems are in a situation similar to that of the second frog - the one that boiled to death.

There are 10 regional library systems around the state. One is the Chicago Public Library, but the other nine are made up of libraries of all types (academic, public, school, and special) in a geographic area. For example, the North Suburban Library System serves about 650 library buildings north of the Chicago city limits, including all of Lake County, north, and northwest Cook County, and portions of Kane and McHenry counties.

We help libraries do their work. We negotiate agreements among them so that tax payers in one library area can also use the libraries of other areas. We provide a delivery service so that materials from one library can be moved around to serve anyone in the region.

We provide education and training to keep library workers cognizant of new developments and competent with new skills. We serve as the research and development arm of your local library. We negotiate and offer discounts ranging from health care to online databases. We build and host electronic "helps" for libraries such as Digital Past (www.digitalpast.org) for local history, and host online forums for sharing knowledge.

Now here's where the boiling frog analogy comes in. Regional library systems have not received an increase in funding since l989. But we were managing and still doing good work. Our money comes in the form of an annual grant from the Illinois General Assembly to the Secretary of State's office. Jesse White's other title is State Librarian. This year Secretary White asked for more money for libraries, but like all state grants, ours was cut by 50 percent. Almost worse than that, regional library systems have received no money - nothing - since the start of our fiscal year on July 1, 2009.

We've scrimped, saved, used our reserves, haven't paid bills and now we've borrowed money to keep our doors open to continue supporting your library. It's no secret that the state of Illinois is broke, but what's not known is what is happening to all the vendors, small businesses and grant recipients not being paid. The state is acting without conscience, in my view, balancing its budget on the backs of those who have done work in good faith and who did not agree to carry this burden.

Who will suffer? The people of Illinois. In the case of regional library systems, if we go away, who will support those people who are using libraries in record numbers to find jobs, help kids with homework, and help parents to do better jobs with their families? Without our delivery service, libraries won't be able to share materials, greatly diminishing the resources of each and every library.

Don't let libraries boil to death just because they have tried to work with the system and do the best with the money that was allocated. Contact your elected officials today starting with Governor Quinn, and decry the nonpayment of an obligation entered into with the passage of a state budget for this fiscal year.