Alternatives for towns facing cuts to libraries?

WBUR aired an interesting piece on this morning by (former Globe reporter) Sacha Pfeiffer on the dire circumstances facing Bay State libraries in this down economy. In the piece Pfeiffer profiled our next door neighbor, Arlington, where individual donors had stepped in with funding to preserve abbreviated Sunday library hours, at least through May. A couple things ran through my mind:

  • First — that, in the absence of an override, Belmont residents should expect that cuts — possibly deep ones – are going to be proposed for FY 2010. We’ve already seen the Benton Branch closed after more than seven decades as a branch library. Don’t expect that this will be the end.
  • That the Belmont Public Library and The Friends of Belmont Public Library may need to be more vocal in their appeals to the community to maintain vital services. If Arlington can raise funds in a pinch to preserve critical services, Belmont should take note. Frankly, this I hate the idea of this, as its really just an encouragement for people to enjoy town services that they don’t then have to pay for. A small cadre of generous residents in Arlington keep the library open on Sunday, but folks who turn their nose up at paying to keep the library open still enjoy its services during those hours. It’s unfair and — like deficit spending– just hides the real impact of the failure to address the revenue side of things.
  • Will Obama ride to the rescue? Libraries have figured prominently in a lot of stimulus talk. And for good reason. As the WBUR story makes clear: in a bad economy, people rely on their libraries more, not less. Netflix subscriptions go out the window as do habits. Moreover, jobless workers can use the magazines, computers and job related resources at public libraries to buff up their resumes. We don’t know yet how much federal money might be available for things like preserving library operations, but let’s hope that some money gets earmarked to preserve these vital community institutions. Belmont’s main branch is packed whenever I visit on the weekend or after work hours. This is an incredibly important resource for Belmont and we’ll all need to come together to make sure it can still serve the community.