Libraries Say State Aid Overdue

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Sen. Benjamin B. Downing looks through a book on libraries.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Library representatives ticked off a litany of troubles for libraries around the region, from state budget cuts to Internet isolation because of the lack of broadband.

Over the past eight years, they've seen state aid drop by up to 30 percent in some areas, affecting their ability to serve their communities, they told local lawmakers at Friday's annual Berkshire Library Legislative Breakfast, held at the North Adams Public Library. Representatives from 21 school and public libraries attended.

"I was thinking that maybe what we should do is send to the Legislature a notice from libraries saying this account is well past overdue," said John Ramsay, administrator of the Western Mass. Regional Library System, to a round of applause.

The state Board of Library Commissioners is pushing an aggressive request for more state funding for library programs across the board and a five-year $100 million bond authorization to address aging buildings in about 30 communities. At least half the state's library buildings are more than 100 years old, and many haven't seen any significant repairs since their construction, say state library officials.

Commissioners are hoping for $6 million more in aid for regional library systems, an increase of about 24 percent, and nearly $7 million, or 34 percent, in aid to public libraries. Despite increases in funding last year, said Robert Maier, director of the Board of Library Commissioners, those accounts are still below their 2001 levels.

The commissioners are also asking for $7 million, more than double this year's budget of $2.85 million, in library technology and resource sharing.

"There's so much more we could do, so much we need to do, so much more we must do to bring access to information resources to all the citizens of the commonwealth," said Maier. "Consider the need consider the impact for just a few dollars ... compared to the $28 billion budget.'

He said the growth of the Internet has raised questions as to whether libraries are still in important: "The answer is a resounding yes."

While library funding has been cut in many areas, and more and more information is being spread through the Internet, library use has continued to grow at a rapid pace. Circulation at state libraries was at an all-time high last year for the eighth consecutive year, with more than 57 million books, videos, DVDs and CDs checked out.

"People start their research for information on the Internet ... but they don't often don't get what they need in that search," said Maier. "It's driving people to libraries, not away from libraries."

But libraries, especially in the rural regions of the state, have been hampered by lack of broadband access and technological resources, affecting their ability to serve their communities, said library representatives.

Some people don't have access to computers or broadband and rely on libraries to provide those services; and regional resources can be accessed through the Internet from libraries and from home.

Tom Corbett, assistant director of Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing, better known as C/WMARS, explained how a teen looking for the next book in a series she loves uses the Internet to track down the nearest volume and orders it online. But "instead of getting her mom's Visa," she requests the book from a participating library anywhere in the state and gets it in a matter days.

Some 2 million items were moved through the C/WMARS system last year, he said, between libraries and people's homes. C/WMARS database contains 8 million volumes.

The librarians didn't have to sell the lawmakers present - Reps. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton, and Christopher N. Speranzo, D-Pittsfield, and Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield - on the need for broadband. The delegation is strongly behind a $25 million initiative proposed by Gov. Patrick Deval for investment in high-speed infrastructure for unserved communities.

"We're with you on this and we'll try to make [libraries] a funding priority," said Bosley, but asked his audience to understand that the Legislature is struggling with $1.4 billion deficit. The good news is that Verizon this week said it will spend $200 million in the western end of the state and expects to have 90 percent of the unserved communities tied into the Net by the end of the year.

"The libraries are more than just a place to get a book. They're a place for people to have a community ... for many of my communities, this is the place in town where social events happen," said Guyer, adding that the delegation would do its best provide for them.

The breakfast was held on the library's newly remodeled third floor, which once housed much of the city's historical artifacts. Joseph F. Truskowski Jr., president of Adams Cooperative Bank and chairman of the library's board of trustees, welcomed the guests and introduced the speakers. Boston Sea Foods Restaurant served a breakfast buffet.

Librarian Marcia Gross presented the delegation with copies of "Heart of the Community: Libraries We Love," featuring 80 libraries from across the country, including North Adams Public Library.

Several speakers noted how the library, which was recently renovated and expanded, was a symbol of how with some help from state government, a community can come together to create a modern, high-tech facility in an historic space.

"It takes a village to build a library, too, I guess, and that's what happened in North Adams," said Mayor John Barrett III, who praised the delegation for its support. "It's one thing you can give to and know it's going to be here long after you're gone."

Tags: legislative breakfast,   library,   public library,   

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