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State funding shortage may doom library systems
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff

Librarians from across the suburbs will meet with state lawmakers Monday to explain that the continued nonpayment of promised state funds could lead to could lead to groups like the North Suburban and DuPage library system shutting down.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/14/2010 12:03 AM

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Libraries across Illinois may again be victims of the state's ongoing financial woes, industry leaders fear.

Regional cooperative library organizations such as the North Suburban Library System already have slashed budgets and cut staffs because millions of dollars in promised state funds haven't been delivered.

If the money doesn't come soon, representatives say, more cuts would be needed. The organizations could even shut down, officials said.

That could dramatically affect services at libraries throughout the state, they said.

For example, a delivery service that lets library patrons order materials from distant libraries would disappear, said Judy Hoffman, spokeswoman for the North Suburban Library System. Agreements that let patrons visit other libraries and borrow materials at those facilities could collapse, too, she said.

Those steps would restrict patrons to the materials in their local libraries.

"And in communities with small libraries and small collections, that's limiting," Hoffman said.

But as Illinois' budget problems worsen, lawmakers will have to decide which programs are essential and must be funded and which are not as critical, said state Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican. It could come down to funding schools or libraries, he said - not both.

"Those are some of the hard decisions we have to make," said Sullivan, whose mother is a librarian at the Fremont Public Library in Mundelein.

Librarians from across the Chicago area will meet with state lawmakers on Monday to decry the situation. The meeting, which isn't open to the public, is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at the Arboretum Club in Buffalo Grove.

Librarians representing communities such as Algonquin, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Elgin, Grayslake, Lake Villa, Libertyville, Mount Prospect, Mundelein, Palatine, Schaumburg and Wauconda will be among those attending the discussion.

Sullivan, state Sen. Pamela Althoff of McHenry, state Rep. Carol Sente of Vernon Hills and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook are among the Illinois lawmakers who've promised to appear, organizers said.

Nine regional library systems operate across the state. Comprised of more than 2,200 public, academic and special libraries, they help local facilities share resources and information.

Much of the suburban Chicago area is served by the North Suburban Library System, which is based in Wheeling and serves about 650 facilities in Cook, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

DuPage County has its own system, as does the Chicago Public Library.

The organizations are funded through the state budget by the Illinois State Library and the Secretary of State's office. This fiscal year, they're supposed to share $15 million, about 17 percent less than last year's total, officials said.

So far, they've only received about $5 million, and those payments came months late, Hoffman said. Locally, the North Suburban group was supposed to get $2 million in state funds but has only received about $717,000, Hoffman said.

The payment problems have arisen at a time when library use is up because patrons are seeking free books, DVDs and other materials - as well as entertainment programs and a variety of services - from local libraries.

"Libraries are serving unprecedented need, both in materials and support," Hoffman said. "This is a social service to the community, and it would be cruel to close it down at its most needed time."

These money problems aren't limited to libraries. Social service agencies, schools and other organizations also are being shorted by the state to the tune of more than $3 billion in unpaid bills.

Last week, the Daily Herald reported state Sen. Dan Duffy was threatened with eviction from his Barrington office because the state hasn't been paying the rent on time.

"Unfortunately, we're going to see (these problems) in so many institutions," Sullivan said.

Some temporary financial relief could be coming within the next month, but the situation is going to get worse by the time the fiscal year ends in June, Sullivan said.