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Kanawha County Library cancels W.Va. Book Festival

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In one of the first of what could be a long string of cost-saving measures, the Kanawha County Public Library has canceled this year's West Virginia Book Festival.

The library system has been scrambling to come up with millions of dollars in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision that stripped about 40 percent of its operating budget.

The library system's board of directors voted Monday to withdraw its support for the festival, which was scheduled for Oct. 19 and 20. Because the library system provides most of the festival's support, the decision effectively canceled the event.

Officials hope to continue to hold the used book sale that is normally attached to the larger festival -- it generates enough money in sales to remain viable, even in a tough financial environment.

But gone are the book signings and author lectures, the book vendors and events.

Board President Michael Albert said the festival is "at once educational to the community and the type of thing that a library should do" but too expensive an event to justify when other services that are the "essence" of the library's mission are at stake.

"Personally, I despise the idea of losing the book festival," said Alan Engelbert, library system director.

"I hate to be here suggesting that we do this. But that is our suggestion."

The library's bleak financial outlook forced the board's hand. The measure was ultimately approved unanimously, amid winces and groans. Board member Virginia Rugeley muttered "Ouch, ouch, ouch" before casting her aye vote.

The move should save the library more than $100,000: the festival's budget is around $90,000, and the library usually has around 500 hours of labor tied up in the event, some from volunteers, but much from paid employees.

The library system is still reeling from a recent state Supreme Court decision that found a 1957 law forcing the school system to help fund libraries is unconstitutional. That decision freed the school system from a relationship with the library that it had long argued was unfair, and left the library scrambling for around $3 million -- nearly 40 percent of its operating budget.

In response, the library system has also outlined a slew of potential cost-cutting measures. This is the second of those to actually be implemented; it has already eliminated Sunday hours at the main library in Charleston and the St. Albans branch.

On the other side of the equation, officials are pursuing a number of additional funding sources.

At its meeting Monday, the library's board of directors approved a draft of a letter to the Kanawha County school board asking it to continue funding the library voluntarily. In that letter, the board asks that the school system fund the library at the full level through the end of this fiscal year, and then contribute about $2.5 million in the 2014 fiscal year, while the two entities work on a more long-term solution.

"$2.5 million is something that we think we could survive on," Albert said. "Though maybe not thrive."

Board members also discussed the status of pending legislation that could provide more stable funding for the library. A bill that should soon be introduced in the Senate would require all school systems to turn over 1 percent of their operating budgets to their local libraries.

Right now, the Kanawha County school board turns over about 1.25 percent of its annual budget.

They didn't take any action on that item, and one board member, Jim Withrow, spoke against that legislation, citing the handful of county school systems that are facing their own financial hardships. Withrow is on the school board's payroll as its attorney, but he said he was expressing his personal view.  


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