By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON — While libraries in Massachusetts are grappling with different demands from users and new technologies such as electronic books, state funding for the libraries is at the same level it was in 1994, Board of Library Commissioners Director Robert Maier recently told state lawmakers.
“The funding is way down,” Maier told the House and Senate Ways and Means committees gathered at a budget hearing in the library of Everett High School earlier this month.
The decreased state funding has set the tone for local funding as well, Maier said. “They feel empowered to reduce their local funding to libraries,” said Maier, who retired from his post last week.
Eight communities have received funding for library construction through a $100 million bond bill approved in 2008, and another 11 communities are on a waiting list, Maier said.
“We need a new bond authorization in order for those 11 communities on the waiting list to actually go ahead,” Maier said. He said Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, had filed a $150 million bond bill to fund two other rounds of construction, both the 11 communities on the waiting list, and some of the 60 other communities that have said they are interested in the next grant round.
Peake’s bill (H 2996) was referred to the Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. Maier said he is also hoping for a similarly sized bond bill to be filed by Gov. Deval Patrick. After the places on the waiting list are funded, the next round of grants would likely be held in 2016 or 2017, Maier said.
“The library is one of those few places in our towns where people want to go to,” said Rep. Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman, distinguishing it from the town clerk’s office where people might pay bills or the police station, which might only be visited in a time of crisis.
Libraries have gained in popularity over the years, officials said.
“People have absolutely flocked to their public libraries over the last 10 years. It’s not just during the Great Recession,” Maier said. Maier has requested a $6 million funding increase, which he said could maybe be accomplished over a period of years.
Gov. Deval Patrick has recommended a $21.8 million fiscal year 2014 budget for the board, up a little less than $20,000 from the projected spending in fiscal 2013.
The retiring Maier plans to work on his house in Salem and travel, while staying involved through his position in the American Library Association.
“I’m going to stay working with libraries around the issues of ebooks and electronic content,” Maier said. He said a search committee is at work, and hoping to select the next executive director by July or August.