EAST BRUNSWICK – Libraries have of late become more than just places to read books or take out DVDs.
In many ways they have become refuges.
They are becoming the places people go to in order to enhance their education, especially when schools are forced to cut down on course offerings and staff due to budget constraints, state lawmakers were informed today as two Assembly committees convened in a joint meeting here.
But if libraries’ funding is cut, their programs could suffer the same fate as the ones in public schools.
As Paterson Free Public Library Director Cynthia Czesak told Assembly Labor and Education committee members on Tuesday, “We, in essence, are subsidizing the schools.”
For example, Herb Levine of the Parsippany Library said that Parsippany, the largest Morris County town by population, has for many years served a large Southeast Asian and Asian immigrant population.
Many of them go to the library to immerse themselves in English-language books, he said.
The result, Levine said, is that English as Second Language teachers in the public school district can reduce emphasis on certain parts of classes, since the students have a relatively good basic understanding of the English language.
“We’re doing the work of transitioning them into English,” he said.
One database that proved especially valuable is tutor.com, which enables school students to have specific questions answered through an online tutoring service.
The database was provided by the State Library; however, it could no longer afford to pay a license fee and discontinued its agreement, the lawmakers were told.
However, Levine said Parsippany library officials felt it was still needed, so they dedicated $6,000 this year to pay the license fee and continue offering it to their patrons.
Levine said the money wasn’t found easily. The library had to scale back its number of new book orders for the year to free up the funds.
The library also holds science and math programs for preschoolers, and has received a state award for “Best Practices in Early Literacy.”
The preschoolers learn concepts such as shapes, measurements and building objects.
At the Paterson Free Public Library, a program known as Paterson Reads is offered to help students make sure they are reading proficiently by grade. If they don’t acquire that grade-level proficiency, Czesak, the library director, said it’s very difficult for them to comprehend information.
“We’ve lost them as productive citizens,” she said.
She said that in Paterson, only 31 percent of third-graders are reading proficiently.
The situation in Paterson remains challenging. The 150,000–resident city has a large Hispanic, Bengali and Arab immigrant population, and many of the households are low-income. To make sure their kids do not fall victim to the “summer slide” that happens when kids are out of school, Czesak said there are plans to bring a bookmobile to several social service agencies in Paterson, providing kids access to books if they can’t get to the library.
“We’re bringing the library to them,” she said.
If a business wants to grow its clientele, the tiny Hasbrouck Heights Library in Bergen County found a solution.
Library director Mimi Hui said it helps put together a networking breakfast for small businesses to participate in. The library helps businesses use the Reference USA database, which is made possible for local libraries through support of the New Jersey State Library. With Reference USA, businesses can develop clientele and marketing lists.
Local businesses offer as much as a 15 percent discount to customers who are “friends” of the local library. Hui said if it wasn’t for the state-supported database, “we couldn’t be able to afford it (Reference USA).”