Library advocates state case for increased aid

TRENTON – The way their supporters see it, libraries are not just places for books.

Not anymore.  They are community centers that provide meeting rooms, internet access, job-search aid.

That is why two lawmakers believe the nine straight years of declining state funding must end.

Burlington County lawmakers Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), and Assemblyman Troy Singleton, (D-7), have sponsored bills to approve a supplemental fiscal year 2014 appropriation of $3 million for library aid.

“We view this legislation as a first step in restoring the 47 percent of library funding that was cut during the recession,” said Eileen Palmer, president of the N.J. Library Association executive board.

Singleton said it is likely the bills won’t be heard until after the election season ends in November, but it was important to get them introduced.

“It puts down a marker.  We want to send a signal in bipartisanship” that library funding needs to be increased, he said.

Once upon a time, the library primarily was for checking out books.  Nowadays, according to Palmer, they offer much more.

“Usage is still increasing,” she said, “but we measure it in additional ways, it’s not just circulation.”

For example, for the year 2012, there were more than 47.03 million visits to 453 buildings throughout the state, and that included more than 204,000 internet users per week.

Because of that kind of need, the sponsors want to address the problems of declining funding, curtailed services, and reduced hours occurring at a time when libraries are needed more than ever by people seeking jobs, by people for whom English is a second language, by people for whom libraries are a community center.

Mary Chute, the N.J. state librarian, emphasized that this additional $3 million being sought is money that would go out to the neighborhood libraries.

“That money is meant to be used in communities to individualize services to the needs of that community,’’ she said. “Each one is unique.’’

“This is meant to ratchet up the per-capita state aid pot,’’ she said, at a time when both state and local funding have been challenged.  

Earlier story:

New bills: more aid for libraries