Vermont libraries facing convergence of challenges

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 5:04 PM EDT
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WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) - Public libraries across Vermont are dealing with tight budgets, staffing shortages, and a push to go digital, making it hard for some to keep up. Reporter Kiana Burks caught up with librarians for some perspective on what they’re seeing.

“We rank last in square footage per capita in our collection holdings and we are second to last in terms of paid staff hours. To best serve the needs of individuals here in Winooski, I think it would be great if we had a larger library space and more funding and resources,” said Nate Eddy, director of the Winooski Memorial Library.

Despite community support, library staff says their main concerns stem from staffing shortages and a lack of funding to keep up with circulation and demand. Along with that, they have to juggle competing public needs of wanting increased digital access and physical books.

“Books just don’t magically appear on the shelves, there’s a lot more to it than that. And I don’t think people quite understand the impact of wanting all these things. They do cost money and we do want to provide them to the public,” said Wendy Hysko, director of the Brownell Library and president of the Green Mountain Library Consortium, or GMLC, an organization that holds a bank of about 48,000 digital content titles for Vermont libraries.

Librarians say relying on e-books is just not sustainable as the prices for libraries to acquire digital copies can be triple the price of a physical copy. “Some popular bestsellers that might cost $30 in print could be upwards of $80 or $90 to have an e-book or audiobook,” Eddy said.

Hysko says the GMLC provides key assistance to members when it comes to these digital demands. “Libraries that would never be able to afford to have to build their own digital collection,” she said.

Librarians say the recent decision by the Vermont State University to move to an all-digital collection will have an impact on the inter-library loan system, a huge blow to smaller libraries that rely on the university’s collection.

“It is really too bad that the Vermont State University Libraries are making this really bad decision -- which I’m hoping they will reconsider. It’s not thinking about how much more expensive digital resources are. It’s not thinking about how people actually use resources,” said Barbara Ball, director of the Windsor Public Library and secretary of the Vermont Library Association.

In the meantime, librarians are hoping for relief in the form of increased state funding as they also work to get new people into the field. Despite the hard times, they say your local library isn’t going anywhere. “Public libraries are really resilient. We will continue to thrive,” Ball said.

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