New Jersey librarians say Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed state budget cuts would gut many library services at a time when state residents are using libraries more than ever.
More people are turning to libraries to look for jobs or job-training opportunities and to fill out online job applications, New Jersey Library Association Executive Director Patricia Tumelty said. Many of those people are doing so because they can no longer afford to pay for home Internet service, she said.
Samuel Cummings, 47, of Vineland, goes to the Vineland Public Library every day.
Cummings said he does so out of necessity: He’s been unemployed for months, and can’t afford to pay $50 a month for home Internet service. He uses the Internet during each visit to look for jobs and write resumes.
“I must find work,” said Cummings, who lives on Tempre Road and said he worked in the customer service industry. “This helps.”
The Christie administration is proposing about $3.7 million in state aid for statewide library services for fiscal year 2011, a funding amount significantly less than the $14 million appropriated in the current fiscal year, according to figures provided by the New Jersey State Library.
That 74 percent funding loss includes a 50 percent cut in state aid to county and municipal libraries. That means libraries in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties would lose more than $351,000 — money that can’t be found in already tight county and local budgets.
Library officials said the cuts mean customers would lose services both big and small, including:
Loss of an Atlantic County Library program that lets people download audio books to their home computers.
The end of many or all magazine subscriptions at the Cape May County Library.
Customers no longer being able to look for jobs or fill out job applications online at the Vineland public library.
The eventual loss of all Internet service at about 200 libraries, which work off a group Internet contract paid for by the state library.
Millville Public Library Director Irene Percelli said it would cost about $82,000 for her library to buy one reference database currently paid for by the state library and shared by hundreds of libraries. That figure represents about 17 percent of her library’s budget, she said.
The library would probably forgo the database, she said, because buying it would mean cutting library hours and staff.
“Seventy-four percent is not your typical cut,” Tumelty said. “Seventy-four percent is dramatic.”
Tumelty said the cuts are coming as library use is increasing, in part because of tough economic times.
Cummings isn’t alone in turning to the library for help finding a job.
Vineland Public Library Director Gloria Urban said the opening of a new Wawa in the city about a year ago caused hundreds of people in the economically depressed area to apply for jobs. Many people wound up using the library’s Internet, because the job applications had to be filed online, she said.
“We became very proficient” in helping people file job applications,” she said.
Percelli said Internet demand — especially by low-income students who need to complete homework assignments — resulted in waiting lines for the Millville library’s eight computers with Internet access. The library had to buy eight more computers to handle demand, she said.
“What family in Millville can afford Internet service?” she said. “A lot of them can’t.”
According to the American Library Association, or ALA, people across the country are visiting libraries in record numbers to take advantage of employment services and technological support provided by libraries.
The ALA said Americans made almost 1.4 billion library visits, and checked out more than two billion items, during the past year. The ALA said that’s a 10 percent increase over the number of visits and items checked out during the last economic downturn in 2001.
Statistics from the New Jersey Library Association and the state library show there were more than 48.5 million library visits in the state in 2008. That number represents a 2.9 million increase in library visits from 2007.
According to the state library, library funding from New Jersey government has decreased annually since fiscal year 2008. Christie’s state budget balancing plan, if approved as it stands, will bring the most dramatic cut with fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1.
Some librarians met recently with state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, as part of an effort to convince legislators to restore the items cut.
“We are starting a major campaign because we don’t know what else to do,” Tumelty said.
Van Drew, a member of the state Senate Budget Committee, said he understands the problem. “Sometimes, government tends to cut those areas that affect people the most,” he said.
However, he also told the librarians that solving their dilemma won’t be easy. “I don’t know how this is going to wash out,” Van Drew said of the budget. “There isn’t a lot of discretionary money out there.”
Cutting the library’s state aid doesn’t upset everyone.
At the Atlantic County library’s May’s Landing branch on Wednesday, Egg Harbor Township resident John Niewender said the cuts are a necessary part of cutting government cost.
“I do think New Jersey government, at all levels, is ripe for reduction in spending,” he said.
But Somers Point resident Janice Harley, who said she uses the library about twice a week, said cutting services that help people isn’t smart.
For instance, Harley said she used the library’s Internet to find a place to get her television repaired.
“It saved me a lot of time and effort,” she said.
Contact Thomas Barlas:
New Jersey library funding (source: New Jersey State Library)
|Library System||Fiscal Year 2010||Fiscal Year 2011|
|Cape May County||$62,875||$31,437|