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Libraries at risk over HB 2719
new vlc CKLS at Topeka
Representatives from the Central Kansas Library System traveled to Topeka Monday to sit in on a committee hearing that could affect the fate of the states seven regional library systems. If passed as written, HB 2719 could spell the end of 294 libraries around the state, leaving half a million Kansans without access. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Civic engagement

Last monday, attendees of the Big Rural Brainstorm, sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation, wrestled with the term ‘civic engagement,’ and how to have more of it in our rural communities. Two days later HB 2719 concerning the taxing authority of libraries throughout the state was introduced, and attendees at the BRB along with Kansas Sampler Founder Marci Penner made plans to travel to Topeka Monday to attend the committee hearing and show support to those fighting its passage.
“HB 2719 would effectively close about 48 libraries in small towns. Rural fire departments, rural hospitals would also be impacted,” Penner posted on facebook. “This is simply about preserving our way of life.”

Great Bend is home to the Central Kansas Library System, CKLS, which operates out of the same building as the Great Bend Public Library. It is one of seven regional library systems in the state. A late bill that the Kansas House is considering now could spell the elimination of this and the other six library systems in the state.
CKLS Director Harry Willems and others from the CKLS office, as well as a Great Bend Public Library board member, travelled to Topeka Monday to weigh in on a committee hearing about the bill. They were part of a group of 175 people from around the state who attended, many from the other seven regional library systems. Others included activists like Marci Penner of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, as well as a contingent of volunteers who attended the Big Rural Brainstorm held a week earlier at Newton. (See sidebar)

Bill to make voters choose each year
Of the 329 public libraries in Kansas, 294 serve communities of less than 10,000 (and are considered rural). 503,326 people are served by these 294 libraries. “If HB 2719 passes and makes it impossible for these 294 libraries to be funded, more than half a million Kansans will be without library service including access to the Internet (which is often only available to these residents through their library),” he posted on the CKLS facebook page Thursday.
Essentially, for 50 years, the Kansas Library System has been funded through mill levies, providing these systems with a reliable budget which has allowed for grants to be awarded to small libraries, as well as to more economically provide bulk services and buying power because libraries are not required solely on their own resources. By changing one word, “shall” to “may,” and requiring communities to vote on individual budgets for their libraries each year, all of that could be lost.
“The language of the bill undermines library systems and makes it impossible for us to continue,” he said. “The language in the bill says now that every year when we produce our budget, it will have to be voted on in each of our 16 counties. It also limits the mill levy to 3/4 of a mill, which would produce $800,000. The cost of holding that special election in each of the 16 counties costs $100,000 each. At $1.6 million, this is a losing proposition, Willems said.
The director of the South Eastern Kansas Library System spoke to the committee, but directors from all systems supplied the committee with written testimony.
Tuesday, Willems said he felt there were many on the committee who dug in their heels on the issue of dollars, but there were others on the committee that realized the impact the bill could have in their own communities and statewide. He anticipates the bill will be modified, but is uncertain exactly how. Presented late in the session, there may not be time to take action on it as yet he added. It will be a waiting game now to see what happens.

Local impact
There are 54 public libraries in the CKLS system. Fourteen of these have annual budgets of less than $20,000, and half of these are under $10,000. CKLS gives grants to libraries every year, equalling as much as 40 to 60 percent of their annual budget.
Losing grants from CKLS will absolutely see these libraries close. It will also mark the end of nine “outlet” libraries that operate in very small communities.
The courier service that allows materials to be transported anywhere in the state will go away.
The CKLS vans that transport rotation books to 45 libraries in CKLS and take books to outlet libraries would stop.
CKLS provides a movie license so all 54 libraries can do programing that includes showing DVDs. That would end.
For Great Bend, the library system puts close to $1 million into the local economy each year, through the payroll for 20 people. The CKLS has purchase 10 vehicles in the last 7 years, most through Marmie and Dove dealerships. That would end.
“The impact of losing library systems is huge, besides the small libraries closing,” Willems said.

Public concerned
One attendee of the Legislative Coffee held Saturday at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce asked Rep. John Edmunds to speak on the “Kill the small town libraries” bill. Though he was not as yet well-versed on the contents, he pointed out the bill affects more than libraries. It also carries language that could affect other entities that benefit from mill levies, like recreation centers and fire departments. He admitted he could see both sides of the bill, and that he had received numerous emails from constituents. His advice was to share thoughts with elected officials.
“Writing, emailing, and calling your own representatives is most effective,” he said. “Particularly if they see differently than you do.”