Kansas City's Biggest Libraries Could 'Weather The Storm' If Federal Funds Are Cut

Apr 7, 2017

If President Donald Trump's budget blueprint were to become law, the agency that administers federal museum and library programs would cease to exist.

In the 2016 fiscal year, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) had a budget of $230 million. Nearly 80 percent of that money went to fund library services throughout the country, according to their website.

While the impacts of Trump's "skinny budget" would be limited for metro Kansas City's largest library systems, "small libraries are going to be tremendously affected by this," says Sean Casserley, head of the Johnson County Public Library.

Casserley spoke with Steve Kraske, host of KCUR's Up To Date, about what public libraries might expect from a fiscally conservative federal allocation. They were joined by Mid-Continent Public Library Director Steven Potter and Crosby Kemper III, the executive director of the Kansas City Public Library.

The Mid-Continent Library system includes 35 locations, including the Woodneath Library Center, shown here. "We actually have small library services in community centers as well, so that we can reach out to people beyond just our four walls," says library Director Steven Potter.
Credit Mid-Continent Public Library

Mid-Continent Public Library, which serves about 800,000 people in Jackson, Clay, and Platte counties, is in a similar position to Johnson County.

"We actually had about $230,000 in IMLS grant funding come through our library since 2013," Potter says. "About 95 percent of our revenue comes from our local revenue source."

The main revenue source for all three library systems is local property tax payers.

According to Kemper, 85 to 90 percent of Kansas City Public Library's funding comes out of local property taxes.

"Our budget is about $36 million," says Johnson County Librarian Casserley. "$31 million comes from property tax, we get about $130,000 from the state [of Kansas]."

But eliminating the smaller slice of funding that comes from the federal agency will still affect some local services, says Potter.

"What ends up happening is we will either have to make a choice between basic services or some of these more innovative services," he says.

Potter cites his library's ability to purchase computer devices, called ubiDuo, that allow his librarians to communicate with people who are unable to speak or hear.

"We were able to purchase that through the IMLS system," he says. "We can prove and have proven that this is a very successful way for people to communicate with each other, so now [other libraries] can try it without the risk that's associated with that."

Ancillary programs like summer reading and early literacy training would be at most risk if funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services is cut from the federal budget.
Credit Jim Mathis / Johnson County Library

Despite that possibility of losing funding for more ancillary programs, all three library leaders agree that cuts to federal funding sources will affect rural readers the most.

"They will face tremendously tough times," says Casserley, "but in Johnson County, we will be able to kind of weather the storm."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Sean Casserley, Steven Potter and Crosby Kemper III here.

Luke X. Martin is a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3 and associate producer of 'Up To Date.' Contact him at luke@kcur.org.