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PRINCETON: Libraries chafed by Christie cuts

Posted from "Area libraries expect to feel the pain of Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed $10.4 million cut in state library funding as part of the $28.9 billion budget plan for 2011 he unveiled last month. The 74 percent cut in funding would impact access to databases, virtual aid, continuing education, and interlibrary loans that is provided to libraries across the state, according to a letter State Librarian Norma Blake sent last month to library directors statewide.

   Princeton Public Library Director Leslie Burger said that if the cuts are maintained, library patrons would see service reductions in those areas as a result. To replace the services lost in the cuts would cost the library about $80,000, she said. The library uses the electronic content provided by statewide databases, which if eliminated would cost as much as $20,000 to provide independently, she said. Those databases help people do research for school, work or personal information, she said.

   However, raising with the money to replace the services is not realistic, she said.

   ”We, as well as every other library, is being faced with reduced funding at the local level as well,” she said. “We’re just about at the end of our third year of no increased budget, and we’re losing purchasing power every year. We don’t have a discretionary $80,000 hanging around in our budget.”

   The loss in services comes as more and more people across the state are using their local library as they make cutbacks in their own homes, she said.

   ”We’ve done a wonderful job in terms of helping job seekers to ensure they can survive during these tough times,” she said.

   Currently, more than 200 libraries across the state, though not Princeton, receive Internet access through the State Library. If the cut goes into effect, they will have to find Internet access elsewhere.

   For many people, the library is a source of Internet access to apply for jobs and social services, she said. Considering the current economic times, the cut to libraries statewide is “shortsighted,” she said.

   ”I understand completely that there’s all kind of pressures on the state and our local government to try to do more with less during difficult budgetary times, but I think it requires a careful look at how you make decisions,” she said.

   Plainsboro Library Director Virginia Baeckler, who said her library stands to experience similar losses, agreed that the cuts couldn’t come at a worse time.

   ”Any library now, any library that you call, will have increased business over the last year than they ever have had before,” she said.

   For example, many people are using library computers to run their self-employed businesses, she said. While it’s not the library’s job to provide that access, it’s better than that person sitting at home and collecting welfare, she said.

   ”What the folks up on high don’t realize is how many people are struggling now,” she said. “Libraries are part of the safety net.”

   Ms. Burger said there needs to be more dialogue about not only the proposed library funding cut, but also those to schools and municipalities that are included in the proposed budget.

   ”There hasn’t been any dialogue,” she said. “I think that’s a missing link that doesn’t lead to rationale decision making in a civil society.”


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