CENTRAL JERSEY: State to cut library funding

By Davy James, Staff Writer
   Cuts in state funding to local libraries could have a devastating impact on the services available to residents, according to local library officials.
   Gov. Chris Christie is proposing a $10.4 million cut in state library funding as part of his $28.9 billion 2011 state budget.
   ”This is a massive cut,” said South Brunswick Public Library Director Chris Carbone. “Everyone understands that there needs to be shared sacrifice but this is beyond a shared sacrifice. This will impact the South Brunswick Public Library as well as every other library in New Jersey.”
   The 74 percent cut in funding would affect access to databases, virtual aid, continuing education, and interlibrary loans, services that are provided to libraries across the state, according to a letter State Librarian Norma Blake sent last month to library directors statewide.
   The loss of the databases would have a drastic impact on the ability of students to research topics and for people to get back issues of magazines they couldn’t otherwise afford, according to Monroe Public Library Director Irene Goldberg.
   The South Brunswick library uses the electronic content provided by statewide databases, which if eliminated would cost as much as $20,000 to provide independently. Those databases help people do research for school, work or personal information.
   A bigger issue for local libraries is the loss of interlibrary loans, which would cripple the availability of materials for patrons.
   ”We support 10 book groups with over 100 people and without the interlibrary loans we won’t be able to get them the books for their groups,” said Cranbury Public Library Director Marilynn Mullen. “A lot of people come in and ask if we can get this or that, and being a small library we just don’t have the space.”
   Ms. Goldberg said the Monroe library does about 13,000 Interlibrary loans a year.
   ”This is going to be awful,” Ms. Goldberg said. “Our community is well rounded and intellectual in nature and they make requests that as a local library we may not have in our collection. If you can’t request a book be delivered to your library we may have to go back to the old days where you mail a slip of paper, they mail the book to you and then you mail it back.”
   The timing of the cuts also will cause problems because usage is up, in part because of the recession.
   ”We do many things at a discounted rate that people need in this economy,” Mr. Carbone said. “People don’t have the money to buy all of the materials that we provide.”
   The South Brunswick library received $36,000 in state aid last year and could see that figure cut in half as part of the statewide budget cuts.
   ”Last year borrowing increased 7 percent and has gone up at least 5 percent each year for the past five years,” Mr. Carbone said. “Usage of libraries everywhere has gone up and up and will continue to go up.”
   The Cranbury Library, which receives about $3,000 in state aid, saw circulation increase by 32 percent last year, with 5 percent more people coming through the door each day.
   ”Students use the databases for research and those will go away with these cuts,” Ms. Mullen said. “Teachers use these databases to teach students how to get a good source that they can quote for a research paper.”
   The Jamesburg Public Library, which receives about $5,000 in state aid, has seen circulation increase between 5 and 10 percent over the last year and computer usage increase about 50 percent over the last year. Carole Hetzell, president of the library board of trustees, said the loss of interlibrary loans would be devastating.
   ”If everything gets cut, this would be a huge smack in the face to small libraries,” she said. “The loans are one of the things that link our libraries together, if one doesn’t have a book you can get it from another one. That would disappear, as will some reading programs. We could see a reduction in hours and we may have to cut movies that people borrow from us.”
   The Monroe library, which receives about $20,000 per year in state aid, averages about 11,000 people per day using its services. The library recently doubled in size so it’s difficult to track the increase in usage, according to Ms. Goldberg.
   She said the loss in funding wouldn’t have much of an impact, but the loss of the interlibrary loans and state databases would hit patrons extremely hard, especially students who rely on the services for research papers.
   ”The loans and databases have made libraries so much more vital and relevant to the community,” she said. “Losing them would take us back to the 1950s where everybody works alone and nobody talks to the library next door. That’s dreadful after we’ve come so far.”
   Residents should soon be receiving mailings from the New Jersey Library Association regarding the proposed cuts and urging them to contact legislators to protest the cuts. For more information visit www.savemynjlibrary.org.
   ”State funding for libraries has remained flat for 20 years while the state budget has risen from $12 billion to almost $30 billion,” Mr. Carbone said. “We’re not the problem in terms of the budget crisis. For decades libraries have been the prime example for group purchases and the shared services that everyone says you should be doing. The library has been doing it and now they’re taking away the mechanism that allows us to do it. It doesn’t make sense.”