Thursday, February 16, 2012

Greenfield Recorder 02/16/2012

Greenfield Recorder 02/16/2012, Page C01

Orange libraries want their funding restored ... and more

Director says there’s four-fold return on town’s investment


Recorder Correspondent

ORANGE — Two years ago, Amy Borezo stood at the main corner of town, holding a sign that asked passersby to ‘Save the Orange Public Libraries,” but doubted the campaign would be successful.

When a budget cut-averting Proposition 2½ override passed, Borezo and other library supporters were delighted — only to be disheartened a year later when library funding was slashed by nearly 25 percent as officials made deep cuts to balance a town budget that was in the red by half a million dollars.

Last fiscal year, the budget was $263,000. This year’s original budget was $239,000, but it was cut back midyear to $203,000.

For the coming budget year, which begins July 1, the library wants its funding restored and then some — and the staff is ready to demonstrate there is a four-fold return on every dollar the town gives them.

Library Director Walt Owens figures that while he requests $316,000 for the library budget for the next year, residents have access to over $1.1 million of services, books, DVDs and computer time. His estimates are based on the calculations developed by the Massachusetts Library Association Legislative Committee.

The library has eight staffers, two fulltime and six part-time.

All were cut 10 percent of their annual income, which translated into a 15 percent cut in hours. The two full-timers report they actually are working more hours than they are technically being paid for.

Owens contends the funding request is critical to maintain library hours and services at the current level. Faced with last year’s cuts, which Owens said were disproportionately severe, library trustees decided to utilize private trust funds rather than further reduce library hours. The libraries closed on Saturdays after the first wave of budget cuts last summer.

But Owens said that tapping into the trust fund is not a viable option for the future.

“We don’t have a bottomless well of trust funds and we’re using them up quickly,” he said. According to Owens, the trust funds were donated by library supporters over the past 100 years and were intended for expansion of library facilities and services.

“It would take a long time to replace those funds if we’re ever able to do so.”

Owens acknowledged that “other departments are hurting and the town is experiencing devastating times, but in times like these, people are even more dependent on library services.” He said that many unemployed people can’t afford computers and depend heavily on library computers to search for jobs online.

Borezo added that in a small town without a lot of cafes and community centers, the library is used heavily by children, and adults as a central place “to bump into each other and catch up.” Seniors also frequently use the library both as a way to stay connected to other people, and to gain access to computers, books and other materials they cannot afford to buy on a limited income.

Borezo said her family uses the library weekly, and her children “go through books so quickly it doesn’t make sense to buy them.” Children’s department staff provide a lot of activities that introduce children to books and “keep their appetite (for reading) going.” Many students walk to the library after school and depend on the art and music events offered as art and music programs, which, along with physical education, were cut from the elementary schools due to the financial crises that plagued the town and schools last year.

Borezo’s neighbor, Robin Shtulman has a daughter who takes part in the library’s writing program, which according to Shtulman, “provides a great creative outlet for kids.” Shtulman, herself a librarian in Athol, said “We have a fantastic little library for such a small community.” But she argued that when full-time hours are “cut and cut,” employees have to look for jobs somewhere else. In addition to the potential for increased staff turnover, “we lose all the creative energy that full-time staff put into their jobs. Our library is as good as the people who work there and we lose far more than the funds that are being cut. (Full-time employees) are thinking about the library and how to serve our community even when they’re not at work.”

Library Director Walt Owens acknowledged that “other departments are hurting and the town is experiencing devastating times, but in times like these, people are even more dependent on library services.”

Recorder/Paul Franz

Librarian Dianne Salcedo walks through the main stacks of the Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange on Wednesday.

No comments: