Inside the Washington State Library in Tumwater, Wash. (Courtesy of the Office of Secretary of State)
With a housing market slowdown choking off a key source of its funding, the Washington State Library is shaving hours and pausing virtual inquiries to librarians.
Effective this week, the library in Tumwater will be closed on Mondays and the online chat feature of its Ask A Librarian program halted indefinitely to deal with the shortfall created by a decline in revenue from fees paid on real estate transactions. Access to librarians will still be available by phone or email.
While programs for people who are blind or have other disabilities, like the Talking Book and Braille Library, are not affected, several vacant positions at the state library will not be filled unless revenue recovers or lawmakers step in with funds in the supplemental budget.
Receipts from the portion of document recording fees allotted to the library fell from $6.4 million in the 2022 fiscal year to $3.8 million in the last fiscal year, aligning closely with a roughly 30% dip in taxable real estate sales tracked by state economists.
Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, in whose office the library is housed, is seeking $3.9 million in next year’s supplemental budget to bridge the shortfall.
“The state’s economy is doing well but because the library is reliant on an unstable funding source, we are stuck in this predicament,” he said Tuesday. “All I’m asking is the Legislature provide money to overcome the loss of the document recording fee revenue.”
Funding for Washington State Library comes from a variety of sources but the document recording fee is the primary one.
Today, the basic recording fee is $203.50. A new law will boost it by $100 on Jan. 1, 2024. The library gets roughly 4% of the fee. Hobbs said he asked lawmakers to boost the percentage when they increased the fee but was unsuccessful.
The library also receives $5 on each filing of other public records, such as the articles of incorporation for domestic corporations.
Hobbs said the library drew on reserves to cover a funding gap in the last budget cycle and does have some reserves now to draw on to sustain programming.
In addition to opening one less day a week, seven of the library’s 22 positions will be kept vacant for the foreseeable future. Three are library operations staff and four are positions that staff the lobby and prepare collections to be moved to the archives building.
More severe impacts loom absent an infusion of revenue, Hobbs said.
“The most drastic would actually be laying off people,” he added.
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that only the online chat feature for the Ask A Librarian program will be halted, not the entire program, and to reflect that the library still has some budget reserves.
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