Board of Library Commissioners Mary Kronholm, left, and Jan Resnick say level funding is forcing operations to eat into programming, training and support for public libraries.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A decade ago, the state's libraries were urging legislators to provide them the funding support they needed to serve their communities large and small.
Not much has changed since then.
The Board of Library Commissioners is asking for a $2 million increase over this year; the governor's budget is giving it $175,000 instead.
"The ask is a 3 percent increase ... we have operated on less than a 1 percent increase over the last eight years," said Greg Pronevitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Library System. "A one percent increase for us means more cuts in services ... We can't afford to operate with a 1 percent increase."
The $25.6 million budget proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker is about .006 of the state budget, down a few 10ths of a percent from this year. Library officials say continued level-funding will cut into critical supports for libraries across the state — and push those needs on to local budgets.
"We are not a special interest group, we are Massachusetts," Alex Lent, president of the Massachusetts Library Association, told those gathered at the 20th annual Berkshire Library Legislative Breakfast at the North Adams Public Library on Friday morning.
The breakfast was a chance to let local legislators — state Reps. John Barrett III and Tricia Farley-Bouvier and state Sen. Adam Hinds, represented by his aide A.J. Enchill — know the importance libraries hold as centers of communities. And to encourage those in attendance to spread the word about writing letters in support of the Board of Library Commissioners' budget requests.
"I think all of us work as a gateway to the communities we serve," said Mindy Hackner, library director and host. The institutions play a critical roles as civic centers and create spaces for young and old to learn and explore.
Nicole Gordon, now a trustee for the North Adams Library, recalled how when her family moved here two years ago, the library became the place to meet new friends, entertain and educate her children, and a sanctuary as she studied for her pharmacist license.
"I immediately felt at home here," she said. "Getting the library card made North Adams home."
Lent, library director of the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, said library association's mission essentially unchanged since its founding by the Forbes Library's Charles Cutter in 1890s. Cutter's passion for taxonomy might only be exceeded by his desire to strengthen once sparse and isolated libraries through a network of collaboration and cooperation, Lent said.
But was has changed is the way the Massachusetts library system operates and the services its provides in the 21st century. More than 27,000 people on average access the internet through libraries each day for research, reading and job searches.
"Nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts residents over the age of 5 have their own library card .... last year, libraries in Massachusetts reported 40 million visits," Lent said. "On average, a resident visits a library every eight weeks."
Compared to sports, "because our sports teams are OK here," he said to laughter, the number of visits to libraries outnumbers attendance at all Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox, and Revolution, for the entire season.
At the same time, libraries are dealing with the same issues as the communities in which they are located: opioid abuse, homelessness, poverty, struggling local budgets, education, rising costs. Internet access, particularly in smaller communities, is becoming challenging as they don't have the budget to update to higher speeds, or even connect to the internet at all.
The library community is pushing for more funding for line 9506 that covers library technology and resource sharing. That line item is down 52 percent this year from a high of $4.4 million in 2001.
"In many of the Berkshire libraries, that is the only place with broadband internet," said Daniel Paquette, president-elect of the C/W MARS executive committee. "We need to be able to offer speeds that are future ready as there are more and more digital streaming options."
Shortfalls in the Board of Library Commissioners' budget means it has to dip into programs and other areas to meet its obligations, and more gets pushed on to towns and cities.
"We don't want to lose any more ground, we barely maintain what we have, so let your legislators know," Commissioner Mary Kronholm of Blandford said.
Lawmakers they are aware of the importance of libraries and the role they play in communities. Barrett encouraged the writing of personal letters about their libraries because stories have a stronger impact than form letters; Enchill, who worked in a library, said senator, now on the Ways & Means Committee was aware of the role they play.
Farley-Bouvier offered more pointed commentary, directing the audience to look at the budget sheets at each table and note that the library system budget for the past several years were "after overrides."
"It means that your governor cut that funding," the Pittsfield Democrat said. "Because the individual legislator and the Legislature as a whole supports you ... this is always an uphill fight for us."
It was time to start looking at new revenue streams because the revenue system built on 20th century activities is no longer functioning. She encouraged the group to advocate for the Fair Share Act on the next November ballot that would allow a 4 percent tax on income above $1 million and would bring in an estimated $1.9 billion a year.
"We need to update our revenue system, without that revenue we can't fund budget line items," she said.
Also speaking at the event, catered by Freight Yard Pub, were Commissioner Jan Resnick, Milne Public Library Director Pat MacLeod and Western Massachusetts Library Advocates President Lynn Coakley. Moments of silence were held for Adams Library Director Deborah Bruneau, who died last summer, and late state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, who has continued to support the North Adams Library's mission with bequests from her estate.
"When your thoughtful and creative and innovative and thrifty, and you pinch any penny until it becomes molten ... you can do more with less," Mayor Thomas Bernard told the gathering at the end. "Just imagine for a moment that you can do more with more."
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