By Bernadette Hogan |
Libraries are invested in the world of service and pleasing the public. But when it comes to allocating state resources, they often get the short end of the stick, says a Monmouth County library advocate.
“Money has been eroding, and when it comes to state resources, we are often the last ones to reap benefits of taxes and bonds,” said Renee Swartz of Rumson, chairperson of the Monmouth County Library Commission, advisors for the Monmouth County Library System (MCLS). “We don’t have large sums of money to spend on lobbying for what we need.”
But after many years of strategic advocacy propelled by the New Jersey Library Association and personalized appeals from advocates like Swartz, library leaders are hopeful an upcoming public vote will support their vision for enhancement of services.
On November 7, when voters go to the polls, New Jersey residents will be asked whether or not to authorize the state to issue $125 million in bonds to provide grants to public libraries. The New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act would build, equip, and expand public libraries to increase capacity and better serve the public. Grants would cover 50 percent of the cost of projects. The other 50 percent would be provided by a library’s local government. Private donors would be allowed to contribute toward the 50 percent provided by a local government
Judith Tolchin, director of the Monmouth County Library System, said funds would facilitate programs already in place, not only at Library Headquarters in Manalapan, but throughout the 40 municipalities the MCLS serves.
Renovations in Manalapan would transform the space into a modern, attractive, active, and fully accessible building with a functional design, Tolchin said. She envisions upgrading meeting rooms with smart chairs, equipped with individual charging stations for electronic devices.
The money would also mean the libraries could offer more attractive and diverse programs.
“A library is one of the only places truly committed to lifelong learning,” said Tolchin. “They go far beyond the scope of a K-12 education because it’s a place where intrinsic benefits far outweigh the costs.”
The state contributes $70,000 to the MCLS operating budget. Nearly $15 million comes from taxes, with additional funding coming from other sources. While $15 million may seem like a large sum, Tolchin says it leaves minimal wiggle room – and every dollar counts.
“The money goes towards maintaining staff, a few buildings, providing materials and programming funds,” said Tolchin.
The organization oversees 14 branch libraries and 13 member libraries within Monmouth County. While branch libraries are owned, operated and staffed by the MCLS, member libraries, like in Fair Haven or Sea Bright, are maintained by their local municipal government. Member libraries utilize MCLS services, and receive access to the county catalog, a technology and book budget, and representatives to run children’s programs.
The MCLS is motivated to expand digital offerings beyond shelved books because it costs less and frees up physical space for community activity that enhances quality of life, such as lectures, children’s programs, career development seminars, music concerts, movies and tutoring services.
Recently, the Eastern Branch Library in Shrewsbury handed out free solar eclipse glasses and ran a program on scientific literacy during the Aug. 21 eclipse. Between three and four hundred people came to the event.
“By being eclectic, we are using all our abilities and attracting more and more people,” said Swartz. “There’s nothing in it for the libraries, except they open you up to avenues you never even dreamed of. It’s an intangible thought about advancing mobility and advancing the democratic spirit.”
However, not all local libraries in Monmouth will be eligible for a grant application. The Oceanic Free Library, for example, operates under a private system established by the Meeker family in 1920. They started the library as a memorial to their son, William, who died in World War I before seeing combat.
Board president Carolyn Miller explains that while funding from the state would be greatly appreciated, money for the Ocean Free Library comes from the borough of Rumson, individual donations and fundraisers, and an annual appeal.
“It’s very difficult to get funding because people donate to so many community fundraisers already, like school events or programs. It’s a lot of work,” said Miller. “We would love to purchase awnings to cut back on air conditioning in the summer. We would love for someone to sponsor or underwrite our fish tank expenses. Everyone loves the fish tank but it costs money to maintain,” said Miller.
The library just installed a new kitchen. A granite countertop was donated and Home Depot offered a new refrigerator. Last year’s improvements included a new roof, provided by a fundraiser at the Seabright Lawn Tennis & Cricket Club.
The MCLS does provide services to Rumson’s library, as they have member status. The system supports the Oceanic Library through books and technology, and a weekly representative runs the children’s program.
“Our library director Nanette Reis does a great job,” Miller said. “Between new families, after school tutoring services, and community events, we are very busy.
When asked which sites were a top priority in the event that referendum passes, Tolchin said there will be a formal process to choose projects. “The Library Commission will assess and prioritize the needs of branch facilities, and decide on the best course of action to enhance services for the entire county library system.”
This article was first published in the Sept. 7-14, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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