The state's librarians must join the fight against the tax initiatives but must also be careful to keep their libraries neutral, participants at the third annual Utah Public Library Institute for Training were told.
"We need you to be committed. We need you to talk to other voters. We need you to give them the information that these cuts are going to hurt them," said Eileen Longsworth, Salt Lake County Library System director, at the institute's Friday luncheon.Public libraries, which are funded through special taxing districts, would be among the hardest-hit of all government entities by the initiative that would limit property tax rates as well as future government growth.
The Salt Lake County Library System is projected to lose more than $3 million, about 40 percent of its budget, if the People's Tax and Spending Limitation initiative passes. The estimated loss to Davis County libraries is $560,000.
The other two initiatives would limit the tax increases passed by the 1987 Legislature and give a credit to parents who enroll their children in private schools.
Both of those initiatives would reduce the amount of money available to school libraries, which are already considered woefully inadequate by national standards.
"It's not just our jobs that are on the line here," Longsworth said. "I'm pretty sure I can fix my own job. I'm not sure I can save the Salt Lake County Library System."
But despite what she said was at stake, Longsworth told the library employees and trustees that the battle to turn voters against the tax-cutting measures must be waged cautiously.
Early in her speech, she said she was there on her own time. Tax-initiative supporters have complained that government employees are speaking out against the measures while they are on the taxpayers' payroll.
And in a recent letter to school and public library officials that was distributed during her speech, Longsworth warned that taxpayers' money should be spent on information, not lobbying.
The letter also stressed a point she made during the speech, that libraries have a role as publicly funded institutions to present information on both sides of the issue.
"I'm a good librarian," Longsworth said. "I think being a good librarian means you give out all kinds of information." She said the library systems for both Salt Lake City and county will be sponsoring debates on the tax initiatives this fall.