Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s budget cuts are threatening to eliminate funding for the free internet access offered by libraries, schools, and universities throughout the state.

When O’Bannon cut Build Indiana funds earlier this year, he eliminated $3 million in technology funding, half of which provides internet service to libraries, schools, and universities. The remainder of the money funds INSPIRE, a program that offers access to 17 reference databases, including encyclopedias and news articles.

Without the internet arrangement, libraries and schools would spend about $10 million statewide for the services now bought in bulk for $1.5 million.

“I’m not even sure they realize what they’ve done,” said Martha Roblee, who handles library and network development for the Indiana State Library. “People were more focused on direct grants to cities and towns, and they didn’t think about some other line items under Build Indiana.”

The direct impact may not be felt until mid-2003. The lobbying arm for libraries, the Indiana Library Federation, pledges a fight to restore funds in the next session of the Indiana General Assembly.

“None of this has anything to do with the merits of the program,” said lobbyist John Barnett. “It was sort of an across-the-board cutting.”

Small public libraries are likely to be most affected. INSPIRE is provided free now and is administered by the Indiana Cooperative Library Services Authority. A library serving about 5,000 patrons would need $18,000 to buy the same databases.

Representatives of the cooperative are traveling around the state to explain the dilemma to its 780 members, including more than 300 school districts, more than 230 public libraries, and various special libraries and colleges. They are asking those libraries to chip in money that collectively could replace $1.5 million.