Monday was Library Day at the West Virginia Legislature. The day was a celebration of public libraries throughout the state, but also an opportunity to request funding.
Libraries are best known for their books, but in recent years they’ve expanded their offerings to include everything from board games to power tools. They can also be a gathering place for communities.
Erika Connelly, the library director of the Kanawha County Public Library system, said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries became even more critical for community connection.
“Libraries became very, very important during COVID to connect people with internet, with Wi-Fi hotspots,” Connelly said. “We got creative to get information to our communities with take-home crafts, and online storytime. These are our goals, to continue those great services to our communities.”
According to Connelly, West Virginia ranks among the lowest states in terms of funding for public libraries, and state aid hasn’t increased in more than a decade.
“We have a line item in the budget, it’s been zero for several years. It’s $5 million for capital improvements, deferred maintenance. We’re in a lot of old buildings in our communities, and in our towns,” she said. “We’re also looking for $2 million in supplemental funds. West Virginia lost a lot of population. As a result, a lot of counties lost library funding, so we’re looking to replace that with $2 million.”
According to the West Virginia Library Association, in 2017 the state’s public libraries evaluated their building needs to be more than $56 million.
Connelly said West Virginians value their freedom to read and express themselves, and libraries continue to stand for that First Amendment right.
“There’s a lot of legislation that targets libraries, school libraries in particular, that are alarming and concerning,” she said. “We just want to make sure that we’re here to uphold the First Amendment. We want everybody to have the freedom to read what they want. It’s a parent’s choice what their children read.”