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`Potter' caught in library budget crunch
When "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" comes out this summer, many young readers will rush to their local public libraries to get copies.
But for this -- and other books -- they likely will receive a lesson in patience.
Because of budget cuts, libraries are struggling to have enough Potter books. In New York City, for example, the number of ordered copies has dropped from 956 for the last release, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," to 560 for the new one.
"I wish this book had come out two years ago, when we had more money," says Margaret Tice, the New York City library system's coordinator for children's services.
In Clinton, Wis., population about 2,000, the public library expects up to 100 requests for the new book. Meanwhile, the library's budget has been cut by double digits.
"Getting the Potter book means not getting something else," says Clinton library director Michelle Dennis, who said she won't be buying any children's non-fiction this year, including a set of encyclopedias she had hoped to order.
Booksellers are celebrating the recent announcement that J.K. Rowling's fifth Harry Potter story will be released June 21. But the news only highlights the current crisis of public libraries.
Having sustained substantial reductions over the past year, libraries face an unhappy choice: Fail to meet the demands of all those Potter fans or take money from another part of the budget.
"It's an age-old problem for public libraries -- the conflict between choosing best sellers and spending money on other things. And when budgets are cut, the problem is that much harder," says Maurice J. Freedman, president of the American Library Association.
"I can certainly see how some libraries are in a tough position. It's a problem that affects everyone and everything," says Neal Goff, president of Scholastic Library Publishing, a division of Scholastic Inc., the U.S. publisher for the Potter books.
Goff says libraries get a standard 40 percent discount, but no special deals were planned for those short of money.
At the Bruggemeyer Memorial Library in Monterey Park, Calif., cuts in funding already mean that 800 fewer children's books will be bought this year, from 5,600 titles down to 4,800. Library director Linda Wilson says the budget could shrink even more.
"We bought six copies of the last Potter book and I suspect we're going to buy at least that many this time. But if we do, we're not going to be purchasing another title," Wilson says.
When budgets are tight, all decisions are hard. But Harry Potter stands out. Worldwide sales of the four previous books top 190 million copies, and no other fiction book is as popular with library patrons.
At the Clinton library, where policy is to order just one copy of any fiction book, Dennis hopes to buy three copies of Rowling's "Order of the Phoenix." Seattle's library system expects to have at least 150 copies, much higher than for the next most popular author, John Grisham; about 100 copies are usually ordered for his novels.
"From what we're hearing, libraries are going to satisfy the demand for the Potter book and then figure out how much money is left for other things," Goff says.
The Potter stories also serve a librarian's core mission: getting kids to read. Librarians worry that delays could spoil a special chance to nurture a lifelong passion.