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- More from Sarah Long
Imagine on the next visit to your local library, you arrive to find the lights turned off and the doors locked. Your first thought is that there must be a power outage, and they had to close for the night. But the sign on the library door says "Lost our lease. We'll miss doing business with you." If this sounds like the opening of an episode of the "Twilight Zone," you would be wrong. This scenario is not fiction; it is a reality just around the corner.
In Illinois, the majority of funding for public libraries comes from property taxes. While a number of libraries have already had to make cuts, and more are expected, public library doors and websites are still open for service. But come July 1, it is highly probable that one special and popular library will go dark. The Voices of Vision Talking Book Center (VOV) is slated to close because it has only received 3 percent of its allocated grant funds this year from the state of Illinois.
The VOV program (vovtbc.org) serves residents of 12 counties in northern Illinois who are unable to read print materials due to visual or physical impairments. Voices of Vision users are provided with books on tape and the necessary playback equipment, and other programs and services, distributed postage free via the U.S. Postal Service. The program is housed at and operated by the DuPage Library System (DLS) through a contract with the Illinois State Library.
The only reason the VOV is still operating is because DLS has used its reserve funds. But with only eight weeks left in this fiscal year, all 10 Illinois Library Systems are still owed 43 percent of their funding by the state of Illinois. Reserves are depleted, and the future looks bleak.
Holding out as long as they could, the DLS Board of Directors held a special meeting on April 22 to make a decision on the future of the VOV program.
"The DLS Board has carefully considered, over a period of four months and five board meetings, whether DLS can sustain VOV operations in FY2011 for prolonged periods without State funds and without receipt of FY2010 VOV funds," said Tom Sloan, DLS executive director. "Unfortunately, we have concluded we cannot continue to provide VOV services under these financial circumstances."
"I was heartbroken to read of the planned closing of the Voices of Vision program," said Janet McIntyre, outreach librarian, Glenview Public Library. "This is a program that works. Every month we add subscribers to the program. The quality of the materials and the service support are excellent."
The expected sad ending to this story is still in draft version, and with your help it could be rewritten as a happy ending. But time is of the essence.
Contact your state senator and state representative immediately to make sure they know about the VOV services, and ask them to seek the release of VOV funds. Contact them by phone, e-mail, or fax. If needed, you can find contact information on the NSLS website: nsls.info/advocacy/directory. Thank your legislators for their past support of library funding. Illinois libraries have achieved a level of excellence admired throughout the country and the world, and now is not the time to strip communities of these exceptional and essential services.