Inyo County Free Library System gasps for air
The Inyo County Free Library system is grossly underfunded. Its budget was cut by 30 percent in 2014 and the funds have not been replenished. Branches are only open a couple days a week and staffed with a skeleton crew. There are five employees operating six branches in Lone Pine, Independence, Bishop, Big Pine, Death Valley and Tecopa. Staffing is so short that if just one employee has to take a day off, the branch closes that day.
These book-filled institutions are also community centers, a place where locals come to chew the fat or get in out of the heat. In some communities, libraries are the only places with reliable internet access. In Tecopa, located just outside the eastern border of Death Valley, when the phones go down, as they frequently do, the library with its internet access is the only place to communicate with the outside world, says Inyo County Library Director Nancy Masters.
Masters said there had been a gradual decline in funding throughout the years, but the budget was cut significantly from $538,651 in 2013-14 to $467,651 in 2014-15. In 2001, there were 19 library employees, 12 of whom were full-time. Now there are nine employees, six full-timers.
Based on Library Journal’s Annual Budget Survey for 2016, a library system the size of Inyo’s should have a budget of $931,000.
Masters said that the budget allowance for new books and materials in 2001 was $37,533, and in 2016 the amount was $30,829. She said other libraries of equal size spend about $100,000 a year on books.
The Library Automation Project, which would digitize the county-wide catalog, was largely paid for by the Bishop Friends of the Library and still needs funds to finish the project. Masters said on Thursday, August 24, that the County has dedicated $20,000 to help complete the work. The project officially started in 2012, and while the County budget states that the automation is complete, Masters said there’s still work to be done.
Librarians do more than scan books and help people find a copy of the Koran. There is another world behind the scenes with librarians and volunteers processing books, assisting with digitization projects and being in “the business of preserving cultural heritage,” says Masters.