State Librarian: Book Festival proceeds despite state budget problems

Without direct state government funding, the Louisiana Book Festival relied on federal funds, private donors, some tourism marketing money and a lot of volunteer help.

The downtown Baton Rouge event was canceled in 2010 as state funding dried up amid state budget woes.

The popular festival resumed in 2011 with help from the Louisiana Library Foundation and Friends of the Library.

That method of funding will be used again this year for the Nov. 2 event that showcases Louisiana-connected writers and authors who write about the state.

Enough private donations were raised to earn a federal grant that requires matching local dollars, State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton told the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday.

Federal funds provide 60 percent of the funding with the remaining 40 percent locally matched, Hamilton said.

The event, which attracted about 22,000 people last year, costs “nearly $300,000” to stage, she said. The Louisiana Legislature diverted about $25,000 out of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office budget that otherwise would have been used for tourism marketing. The rest of the local portion came from private donations.

“Basically we break even,” Hamilton said. “This is not a massive organization that puts on this festival. It’s done with very few people and relatively little money.”

In Texas, the book festival has a multimillion-dollar budget and 25 full-time staff.

In Louisiana, it’s two people with the library’s Louisiana Center for the Book who spearhead the effort, she said, and a lot of help from volunteers.

Not only the festival has had financial woes because of state budget problems, she said.

The state Library has 48 employees doing the work of 78 employees, Hamilton said.

Sick leave is up 43 percent, she said, “a strong indicator of people wearing out.”

Hamilton said in 2005 when she became state librarian there was a total budget of about $12 million. Today it’s about $7 million, she said.

“We are a living breathing thing. We want to grow our services, to stay up to speed,” said Hamilton. She described the current situation as a “holding pattern.”

Foundation Chairman Bob Mann praised Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s support of the book festival and his determination to restart it in 2011 despite state budget problems.

“He’s such a cheerleader not only for the festival but celebrating the culture of this state ... and its contribution to the literary culture of the nation,” said Mann, an LSU professor and author.

Hamilton said she is hopeful with the recent announcement of an estimated $163 million budget surplus that state funds will once again flow to the festival. The festival received some state funding from its inception in 2002 until 2010.

“The state funds have been a battle,” said Hamilton. “We hope we get some state funds restored.

“We need maintenance of effort to continue our ability to leverage what we have gotten” in federal funds.