Brattleboro library trustees concerned about proposed budget cuts
BRATTLEBORO -- The Brooks Memorial Library Board of Trustees met Tuesday to talk about how the Selectboard's proposed budget cuts would affect services at the library.
After voters rejected the fiscal year 2015 budget on April 17 during a townwide vote, the Selectboard talked about possible budget cuts which included cuts to the library staff or a 5 percent reduction in the library's annual budget.
Library Director Jerry Carbone said either option would have a severe impact on services.
"I've been at the library for 35 years, and have been library director for 20, and I've never had to work under, or contend with a budget cut of this size," said Carbone. "And I would be very sure to say that perhaps in the history of this institution, there probably hasn't been a budget cut of that size going back to 1882, when the library was first supported with tax funds."
About 40 people filled the library community room during the meeting, which was held just before the scheduled Selectboard meeting that was postponed due to an overflow crowd in the Selectboard Meeting Room.
Losing two full-time employees, Carbone said, would result in the library losing about 75 hours of staff time, or about one-third of the full-time library staff.
Carbone said he probably would have to cut one staff member from the Children's Room and the second from the first floor.
He said the library would have to close an additional 10 hours per week, going from 50 to 40 hours. This, he said, comes on the heels of a decision made two years ago when the hours were reduced from 56 to 50 hours.
When the library budget was cut two years ago Carbone said the impacts were felt right away and the library is still adjusting. Hours were cut during slower times of the week, and people adjusted their schedules. Visits reduced from about 175,000 a year to approximately 137,000.
"People stopped visiting," Carbone said. "It doesn't make Brattleboro an attractive place to move to. If you're considering a place, and see a declining library, I think it's going to have a bad effect."
Carbone said losing two staff members would affect many library services and closing early some nights would mean the community room would be less available. The summer reading program for children would probably be eliminated, affecting more than 200 children. The public would have fewer hours to access public computers, and Carbone thinks revenue would be affected as fewer out-of-town residents would purchase library cards when the hours are so severely limited.
"If we start cutting our hours this library becomes less attractive to people," Carbone told the trustees. "People coming from out of town would find challenges in finding us open."
The Selectboard presented two options, which included cutting two library staff members or just cutting the budget by 5 percent. The 5 percent reduction would reduce the $600,000 budget by about $30,000. That cut, said Carbone, would have different impacts.
The library might be able to hold on to its staff members but the cut would affect some hours, as well as material purchases, which already have been reduced from the current year.
The library receives volunteer help and fundraising assistance in raising money for material acquisitions, Carbone said, and the endowment helps the library, as well. But, he said, the 5 percent cut would slash his acquisition budget by half.
Veronica Wheelock is a volunteer at Brooks Memorial Library and she said the library is being forced to bear the brunt of the townwide cuts on the shoulders of the volunteers.
Volunteers provide about 50 hours of service every week, and with library volunteers taking on library responsibilities, the paid staff members, Wheelock said, are left to manage vital services. So when cuts are made to the paid staff the impacts are severe.
"The library gets the most volunteer hours than any part of the town budget," she said. "We should not be punished for doing that. We should be rewarded for that. The cuts now will cut into things that really only the professionals can do. It seems we've got to take this success and excellence with volunteerism, and bang them over the heads with it."
The trustees voted unanimously to support a statement rejecting the proposed cuts.
Carbone said when he first came to the library in 1978 Brooks Memorial Library was opened to the public 66 hours per week.
"It's been an erosion over the years, and we've never been able to get it back," Carbone said. "You just go into a spiral. This would be an accelerated spiral and it would not be good."
Before Kris Alden moved to Brattleboro seven years ago she said she visited Brooks Memorial Library and she said it was one of the main reasons she decided to move to the area.
Alden volunteers at the library and is a frequent visitor, and she said diminishing the services so severely would mean much more than just loaning out fewer books.
"The library is the heartbeat of a town," Alden said. "It's information. It's entertainment. It's a place where people can gather. It would just be obscene for this library to lose any of the services that it provides. This makes me furious and it breaks my heart."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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