Friday, May 7, 2010

Making a case for the Otis Library

Last night was the second public hearing on the proposed 2010-2011 budget for the city of Norwich. There were large and passionate groups opposed to the level funding of the school budget and school closures, and the cuts inflicted on the social services budget, in particular the reductions at the Rose City Senior Center.

It was also an opportunity to restate our case for better library funding.I have taken the liberty of reproducing my statement to the city council in full for your perusal:

To the Norwich City Council:
First, I want to thank you for your service to the Norwich community. Fiscal oversight is never an easy responsibility, and it is even more burdensome in a difficult and contentious environment such as the one we currently face.
In crafting a final budget document for the 2010-2011 fiscal years you are faced with no easy choices, and the insuperable problem of having too few resources to satisfy the needs of every constituency.
I have attended most of the departmental budget presentations and the public hearings and heard cogent cases made for departments without whose collaboration and support the library could not function. I will not enumerate them all, but I must mention the Department of Public Works, the Norwich Police Department, Fire Department, the Department of Human Services, school department and the Norwich Parks and Recreation Department. Each renders invaluable service to the Norwich Community, and at some point during the past 12 months each has assisted the library as a service provider or collaborator.
Clearly, the library represents but one part of a complex budgeting equation, and will be judged by a set of values and priorities you must carefully consider. Perhaps one of the dilemmas in making a decision about the library’s place in the budgeting equation is that we do not fit into one easily identified category, like public safety or a school system. Art Brodsky the communications director for Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group, summed up this conundrum nicely: libraries serve a range of purposes - they help teach children to read, they help students work on projects, they provide meeting space for tutoring, they provide Internet access. They serve students, seniors, immigrants. They provide assistance to the unemployed. Libraries combine education, workforce development, socialization, recreation. But they aren't the school board, or a social services agency, and so they generally get buried in the larger budgets.
As you deliberate, I would like you to consider Brodsky’s comments and the following observations: In one forum or another I have quoted at length from local, state and national indicators substantiating the use of the library by the public. I have referred to quantifiable increases in visits, circulation and library card applications. Of equal salience, in a community where the poverty level is above the state average, over 11% compared to 7.8% across Connecticut, the need for our services is clear. It is equally clear that the envisioned reductions to the library roll back our capacity to provide services to the parlous conditions at the beginning of this decade, a time when the library facility was cramped, the collections outdated, and per capita support anemic.
Every community has a unique base of assets upon which to build its future. The Otis Library is part of Norwich’s asset base, along with schools, parks, social service organizations, and hospitals. The library is a visible and formal part of the community fabric. Reductions at the levels contained in the current draft budget diminish both the library and the community it serves. Diminished as well are the incentives for future community stability and growth, for newcomers to select Norwich as their home and for current residents to maintain allegiance to this city. I hope, therefore, that you will revisit the proposed budget and contemplate its effect on our asset base, the funds allocated to our asset base generally and the library specifically.

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