Virginia Library Association: Q&A for Ed Gillespie and Ralph Northam

The Virginia Library Association Legislative Committee reached out to the major party gubernatorial candidates to ask questions about libraries and library funding in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

We encourage all library supporters to read the questions and the complete answers provided by each candidate, below.

Question 1: Do you use your public library, and, if so, what do you like about it?

Gillespie: As a child, I enjoyed visits to my public library. And as a father, I often took my children to our public library.

Northam:  I grew up going to public schools and public colleges, and I’ve been an educator at one of Virginia’s public colleges myself. There is nothing more important than public support of education, especially our public libraries. For many years my family has been big public library supporters. Pam and I are currently members of the Norfolk public library and my children grew up going to the library at least once a week. During this campaign, both Pam and I spend a lot of time on the road, and Pam in particular has enjoyed getting all of her audiobooks from our local library to listen to as she travels around the state. Pam’s mother recently retired from being assistant librarian at the Bandera public library (in Texas) and my mother used to take neighbors and friends’ children to the our local library in Onancock.

Question 2: How do you think that libraries (public, school, and academic) contribute to the quality of life in Virginia?

Gillespie: I believe that there are many contributions libraries make to quality of life, outside of their dedicated function to make books available. Whether it be providing a forum for community events like open mic readings or art galleries or providing an opportunity for students in underserved areas to access Internet, libraries serve a lot of important functions in our society.

Northam:  As a medical professional, scientist, and pediatrician, I see the power of a good education every day. Virginia’s children need and deserve access to a world-class education, and public libraries make that possible. As a pediatrician, you can understand why I have put so much emphasis on early childhood education. I have chaired the Commonwealth Council for Childhood Success, and am a member of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet. I am proud that during our administration, we have opened up Pre-K to 13,000 more children across Virginia. I often point out that if one family has the ability to send their child to Pre-K and another family does not, that is what starts an achievement gap that is very difficult to bridge. Public libraries— accessible to all Virginians— play a tremendous role in ensuring access to educational opportunities for Virginians of all ages, economic backgrounds, etc. Moreover, libraries provide diverse programming and are community gathering spots that add to the overall quality of life in a community.

Question 3: In FY 2001, the Governor and the General Assembly fully funded State Aid to Local Public Libraries, but state aid was severely reduced in the years that followed due to budget cuts and the fiscal challenges Virginia faced. As a result, for fiscal year 2018 State Aid is currently funded at only about 58% of the level mandated by the Code of Virginia which is about $11,600,000 per year short of full funding. While JLARC has found State Aid to Local Public Libraries to be a valuable source of funding that effectively leverages local spending and achieves cost efficiencies by encouraging regional libraries, through FY 2018 this state financial support for public libraries has fallen to only $200,000 more than the FY 1999 level. Most libraries use State Aid to Local Public Libraries funds to purchase books and other materials that are to be used by the public. As Governor, would you oppose any further cuts in State Aid to Local Public Libraries?

Gillespie: Our local and regional public libraries must be funded to ensure the continuation of the important services they offer. As governor, I will closely evaluate the State Aid to Local Public Libraries.

Northam: Virginia’s public libraries can’t afford more cuts. As governor, I’ll ensure stable funding for public libraries – and I will prioritize bringing both parties together to invest more in programs to make Virginia the home of the best-trained workforce in the nation, and that includes investing in public libraries. On a personal note, I have reached out to stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to support the Eastern Shore Library Foundation in my home community, so that the Shore can have a modern, regional library— having benefitted firsthand from our public libraries here in Virginia, I know how important they are and will support them as Governor.

Question 4: Virginia law establishes that the development of public library service throughout the Commonwealth is part of its provision of public education (§ 42.1-46). Library summer reading programs that promote childhood literacy and library materials that target STEM instruction in and outside the classroom are two ways that libraries are currently supporting public elementary and secondary education throughout the Commonwealth. A study conducted for the Library of Virginia by McREL International between April 2013 and November 2015 documents significant improvement in childhood literacy that result from summer reading programs. This study found:
  • Students who participated in summer reading programs outperformed non-participating peers on both the Phonological Awareness Literacy screening used to measure knowledge in literacy fundamentals in grades K-2nd and the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) for grades 3rd -12th.
  • Students in grades 3rd-12th who participated in summer reading programs demonstrated an increase in test scores after returning from summer break, while students who did not participate in summer reading programs showed a decrease in scores.
  • Students in grades K-2nd who participated in summer reading programs demonstrated less of a decrease in test scores than non-participating students after returning to school from summer break.

Would you support increasing the amount appropriated annually to State Aid to Local Public Libraries by $2.5 million during the 2018-2020 biennium and an additional $2.5 million in the 2020-2022 to be used by libraries to support summer reading materials and programs or library materials that target STEM instruction? This would bring State Aid to Local Public Libraries to about its FY 2001 level and about 76% of the amount currently required by state law.

Gillespie: As governor, I will strongly advocate for initiatives that advance STEM instruction. Summer reading programs serve an important role in giving Virginia students an opportunity to hone their skills throughout the summer. I am encouraged by the McREL study and will invite the Virginia Library Association (VLA) to submit budget recommendations to the Department of Planning and Budget (DPB) and to the Governor’s Policy Office.

Northam: Goal #1 of my four years is making Virginia’s workforce the best-trained in the nation, because that will lead to good-paying jobs and a better economy for everyone. While there are many competing budget priorities, I will be focused on bringing both parties to the table to make investments in programs that will prepare Virginians for better-paying jobs. That includes expanding access to pre-K, investing more in our public schools, and continuing to invest in Virginia’s public libraries.