Libraries At The Crossroads

You may have heard it said that libraries are becoming a thing of the past. So, why should our hard-earned tax dollars be used to fund them when everything we’ll ever need to know can be accessed through our smartphones?

Without a doubt, information technology is changing the way we learn. Recent surveys indicate that people aren’t using libraries anymore just to check out books or consult encyclopedias. Though many insist that libraries must maintain their valuable legacy functions such as lending printed books, growing numbers require digital access to library resources and information anytime and from any place.

Standing at this crossroads, libraries have been taking conscious steps toward meeting ALL the needs and demands of the public they serve.

A large number of Americans today see libraries as part of an educational ecosystem, and use them as resources for promoting digital and information literacy. According to the PEW Research Center ( 85 percent of Americans age 16 and older want libraries to provide early literacy programs to help young children prepare for school. Eighty-five percent want libraries to coordinate closely with school districts to provide extracurricular resource help for their children. And 78 percent want libraries to offer programs that teach people, including children and senior citizens, how to make intelligent use of digital tools, such as computers, smartphones, and apps.

Perhaps you did not know that Lakewood Memorial Library and the Hazeltine Public Library in Busti are already offering programs that address these issues. Both libraries provide their communities with free wireless and high speed internet service, computers, copiers and scanners, free downloadable books and audiobooks, free databases, interlibrary loan access, preschool storytimes, children’s summer reading programs, clubs and activities, STEM programs, job skill classes and much, much more.

And perhaps you weren’t aware that about two-thirds of the funding for these two libraries and the multitude of programs they provide, has historically been allocated through the Town of Busti and Village of Lakewood. But compliance to the New York State 2 percent tax cap on municipal spending over the past few years has changed the ability of our municipalities (as well as municipalities across the entire state) to provide adequate library funding, impeding efforts to keep essential library services in motion or to plan for future needs.

Because of this, many libraries in the state of New York, indeed, more than 75 percent, have successfully taken advantage of the 259 option of the state Education Law, which provides a means for libraries to directly access funding from the voters within their communities making use of school district tax collection mechanisms.

With this in mind, the Lakewood and Hazeltine Library boards have, together, petitioned the Southwestern Central School District Board of Education to place a libraries funding proposition on the school district ballot to be presented to the voters for approval. A referendum has been scheduled for May 15, 2018, as a separate libraries proposition attached to the public vote on the school budget.

It’s rumored that this means that yet another tax will be imposed upon the voters. That misconception must be cleared up now! The proposed library budgets will appear as lines separate from the school district budget on the school district ballot, and include a levy of $204,000, $65,000 going to Hazeltine Library, and $139,000 to Lakewood Memorial Library for 2019 funding. If approved, both libraries would then be eliminated from the annual budgets of the town and village. It’s true that certain residents within the Southwestern Central School district, who are currently not contributing funding toward any library, would pay an annual $16.11 per $50,000 home assessment, but it’s also true that residents of Busti and Lakewood will find that payment less than what they are paying now.

You may have heard it said that strong communities have strong libraries. The trustees of both Lakewood and Hazeltine libraries take very seriously our charge to provide the best essential library resources to the benefit and betterment of all individuals within our communities. But we need your support in taking this important step toward strong and sustainable futures for our community libraries.

In the coming weeks before the vote on May 15, we encourage you to contact us with questions you may have regarding this funding referendum. You can reach Hazeltine Library Director Katie Smith at 487-1281 and Lakewood Library Director Mary Miller at 763-6234.

Mary McCague is board president of the Lakewood Memorial Library.