HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Libraries across the state are facing a decrease in funding, and a director in the Pine Belt said he expects it to get worse.
Sean Farrell, the director for the Hattiesburg-Petal-Forrest County Library, said he was sad to report "funding from the state for us is all bad news."
Farrell said for the fiscal year, which ends in September 2017, the library took a 12.5 percent funding decrease. The original state funds allocation of $98,530 dropped to $86,261.
"It's really discouraging to get those state budget cuts, we try to provide the best quality service we can for the public," Farrell said. "We guard our funds very carefully and we don't have a tremendous amount of funding."
Farrell said the news for the fiscal year that ends in 2018 is even worse. The library is projected to receive $73,102, which is an additional 15% decrease in funding.
"I have to decide what to do. Are we going to buy fewer children's books, are we not going to fill a position?" Farrell said. "It's very frustrating when you provide what we think is an important service like the library to see these cuts."
Farrell said in 2012, the library received $123,813 in state funding. If the funding decrease continues as expected, Farrell said that would be a 41 percent decrease in state funding since 2012.
The trouble for libraries does not end at a state level, though. Farrell said when there are cuts to the Mississippi Library Commission, there could be cuts to federal funding the library is set to receive. Farrell said that state funding helped by learning iPads for the Hattiesburg Library in 2016.
"That grant may be gone this year," said Farrell. "We rely on those things to look at the new services that we need, that the public is asking for. It's getting more and more difficult with the ensuing budget cuts."
Melissa Martin was using one of those learning iPads with her son Thursday. She said her family uses the services provided at the library several times a month.
"Whatever they need for school, we come here. I come here for job applications I can't do at home on my cell phone," Martin said. "He gets to look at the book, they have story time here available for the kids, it's quiet so he has to be a little quiet. It really does great for him."
Martin said she is not in a financial situation to purchase a computer for home, so her son and daughter rely on the computers at the library. She said if those services were taken away, her family would be in a tough situation.
"It would be like a devastation," Martin said. "The only other resources are for the schools, but they closed at a certain time. I don't get out of work until a certain time, so that's the worst possibility."
Farrell said another negative consequence of the state cuts to the Mississippi Library Commission's budget is the elimination of services they paid for and made available to all public libraries. One of those services is LearningExpress, an online service that provides access to job skills and educational materials. That service was available not only in libraries, but to anyone with a web connection. Farrell said that service will not be available after June 30.
"We are going to try to provide as much as we can, but I have to be honest," Farrell said. "You can't continue to do the things you are doing if your funding continues to get cut like the state is doing to us."
Farrell said he is lucky that the cities of Hattiesburg and Petal, as well as Forrest County, have been supportive of the library. He said they provide the bulk of the funding, which allows for services and programs.