Cuts to universities could threaten Alaska’s unified library catalog

The Sitka Public Library is among the more than 80 local systems that share collections statewide. (KCAW photo/Bill Foster)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s cuts to Alaska’s university system could dismantle a statewide library system that allows patrons to easily request more than 3 million titles from libraries across the state.

Juneau’s library director Robert Barr explains how the Alaska Library Catalog works.

“If you live in Juneau and there’s an item that you want is not owned locally in Juneau but it is in Fairbanks, we’ll get it for you and vice versa,” he said.

The materials are couriered on the road system. If the libraries aren’t in roaded communities, they go by mail. It’s a free service available to more than 90 percent of the state population.

The network links more than 80 libraries run by municipalities, school districts and university campuses.

“It’s been a vision of libraries for a long time to figure out a way to create a statewide system to do something like this,” said university librarian Mike Robinson, who helped build the system at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“But it was very hard to sit down on paper and plan it, you know from scratch,” he told CoastAlaska. “Who was going to come up with the money? How are we going to do it? So it evolved organically over time, which is great, but it’s housed within the UAA infrastructure.”

Much of this “infrastructure could soon face the chopping block.With a stroke of a pen, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto eliminated $130 million from the universities budget.

University officials warn that will mean more than a thousand job losses unless the legislature overrides the Governor’s veto. That has Robinson and Barr worried about the three support staff that help run the catalog at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Once the belt start tightening, it could be easy to get in a hole where the whole system gets underfunded,” Robinson said.

To be clear, the governor’s vetoes wouldn’t automatically doom the Alaska Library Catalog. But Juneau librarian Robert Barr – who pulls double duty as president of the Alaska Library Association – says its days would likely be numbered.

“I have a hard time seeing UAA and UAF and UAS continuing to support that service with cuts of this magnitude,” he said Monday.

As it stands, patrons in Talkeetna can request a book in Wasilla. But cuts to the universities could take Alaska’s public libraries back a couple decades.

Before the statewide catalog, Barr said, “you would instead only have access to a library catalog per your local community.”

The Legislature is slated to review this and 181 other line item vetoes this week. It takes 45 votes to override the governor and lawmakers have only until Friday to do so.