Proposed budget cuts could adversely affect local libraries in 'post-truth world'
According to Warsaw Public Library Director Lisa Gricius, the governor’s proposed decrease in library funding would take libraries back to the 2015 level of funding. Additionally, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes a $5 million cut from the Library Construction Aid program. That cut alone decreases available funding for this region by about $150,000.
Rebekkah Smith-Aldrich had this to say following the announcement of the governor’s budget proposal to cut nearly 5 percent in library funding: “It is hard sometimes for outsiders to understand how critical library system services are to running a local library. I always use the line, ‘for every $1 invested at the state level, it results in $7 worth of services for local constituents.’ We have a great return on investment and this cut could shift costs, in a very inefficient way, to the locality.”
Smith-Aldrich is the coordinator for Library Sustainability at Mid-Hudson Library System, Hudson.
“These actions come at the same time as the governor’s proposal to increase education funding by $1 billion and ‘double down’ on infrastructure spending across the state,” Gricius said. “The governor’s stated priorities and actions toward libraries don’t make sense. Libraries are education. And library buildings are the keystones of small community infrastructure.”
“Unfortunately, it (the budget) includes a cut to State Library Aid and Library Construction Aid. His budget takes back the legislative adds our representatives fought for,” said Pioneer Library System Executive Director Lauren Moore. “These cuts come at the same time as he is proposing a 4-percent increase in education funding. This is an unfair approach to funding because, as we all know, libraries are education.”
In addition to taxes levied on the library’s behalf from its respective town and school district, the Pioneer Library System also supports the library at the local level by using state funding and divvying it up between the libraries within its network. In the case of the Warsaw Library, it’s part of a network of 42 libraries across Ontario, Wayne, Wyoming and Livingston counties – Owwl.
The Owwl network allows Warsaw residents to access about two million in library materials across the region and request to have those materials delivered to Warsaw. A reduction in state aid could result in slower delivery service, fees for patrons, or increased costs to local libraries. Additionally, it could seriously affect the children who are homeschooled. Currently, they get books they need or want from other libraries and the service is free.
The governor’s proposed budget cuts may decrease the tech positions in the library system. The potential for lessened digital services is possible without the support of the system.
“The digital collection is a system-wide thing,” Gricius said. “Each local library contributes some to purchase the material, but we can’t afford to be a part of that service with that kind of budget decrease. Those who can't come into the library use digital devices for ebooks and magazines.”
This year Warsaw Public Library was able to quadruple the bandwidth available to its patrons, thanks to a subsidy from the Pioneer Library System. That subsidy is funded by state aid and without it the library would not be able to provide adequate bandwidth levels.
“State aid funds system-wide access to Ancestry.com genealogy website, Mango language-learning website, and downloadable ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines through Owwl2Go and Zinio. Warsaw Public Library would not be able to support any of these services without state aid,” Gricius said.
The cuts don’t just affect the libraries services, it may affect basic improvements necessary to keep the building safe, accessible and open. Funding is needed to complete projects such as electrical rewiring and window replacement. Many of the libraries in the Owwl network are more than 100 years old. To meet the needs of the communities, many of the facilities require additional meeting spaces, accommodations for new technology, and renovations to make spaces fully accessible.
“We qualify for 75 percent of the funding and only having to kick in 25 percent, which has to be budgeted in the annual budget,” Gricius said. “We don’t get county funding to operate. We work solely with the money collected by school and town taxes and funding appropriated by the state.”
“Our job is to be good stewards of the resources the public has already invested in, state aid for construction ensures we can keep up with community demand,” Smith-Aldrich said. “The real kicker is that the library-aid formula hasn't been updated since pre-Internet days, so to not even fully fund libraries with an out-of-date formula is just setting New Yorkers up for failure. In a post-truth world our work is more important that ever. We should be a centerpiece of the Governor's plan for the future of New York instead of an afterthought.”
A library is more than the books it houses and the building itself, they are a place where children can go after school for tutoring and homework help. They are a place where an adult can go to continue their education if secondary school is unaffordable. As Gricius put it “libraries have continuously provided opportunities for enrichment in an environment dedicated to creativity and free inquiry.”
To bring about awareness of how much a library not only means to a community, but also how much residents save on an annual basis by using a library.
The Warsaw Library is hosting two initiatives: a postcard campaign where patrons can write to the governor telling him why the library is important to them. They will be taken to Albany on Advocacy Day in March. The other campaign the library is working on is asking patrons to use the “value calculator.” The calculator is an indicator of how patrons use the library and what it would cost them on an annual basis if services were lost.
“People's voices and stories are important. Not everyone realizes that we can lose this,” Gricius said. “It's important to have their voices heard because they do matter.”
“We have a fight ahead of this year, but with an organized advocacy effort we might be able to convince the legislature to add equitable library funding into the final budget,” Moore said. “We're going to need every single library supporter in the Pioneer region to say loud and clear: ‘Libraries are education. We deserve fair funding.’ "
For more information on the Warsaw Library’s initiatives visit the library or its website at http://warsawpubliclibrary.org/.