CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Library administrators across the state are holding emergency meetings and hoping for the best after the Supreme Court ruled last week that a law forcing the Kanawha County Board of Education to fund its public library is unconstitutional.
"I think we're all making plans for the worst-case scenario because right now, that's the fiscally responsible thing to do," said Pam Coyle, director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley Public Library.
The court declared Friday that a 1957 special act that requires Kanawha County to give a portion of its budget each year to the local library system creates unequal treatment and is therefore null and void. Similar laws have provided libraries in nine other counties with funding from school boards.
The decision came 10 years after the Kanawha County school board first sued the library over the matter.
"What worries me is that the question wasn't how much we should give our libraries -- it was if we should give them anything at all. That's a concern," Coyle said.
In addition to the Kanawha County school board, Berkeley, Hardy, Harrison, Ohio, Raleigh, Tyler, Upshur, Wood and Cabell county school boards have been required by law for more than 50 years to financially support libraries, until now.
For the Kanawha County Public Library, that means a loss of about 40 percent -- or about $3 million -- of its entire budget if the school board chooses to pull all its funding for the library.
Karen Goff, head of the West Virginia Library Commission, spent Monday afternoon talking to county library leaders who could be affected by the ruling and helping them plan for the future.
"I understand the court did this for equal protection, but these libraries will have to cut operating funds, hours, staff and acquisitions," she said. "And that's unfortunate because these 10 counties had the best funded libraries in the state."
Of the 97 public library systems in West Virginia, only 16 do not receive some funding from their local boards of education. By law, only school boards, municipalities and county commissions can fund libraries, Goff said.
"They don't have a lot of options," she said. "A lot of them don't know what's going to happen. They don't know what their boards of education are going to do. They can request funding, but they can never be assured if they'll get it or not."
Jennifer Armistead, director of the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library, said the loss of funding in her county would be devastating, especially because the state matches the amount each year.