At the Library Board meeting on October 21, 2004, Chair Rebecca Pordum delivered the following statement:
The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is a public trust. For nearly 170 years the people of our community have invested in their libraries, and those libraries have returned that investment many times over in resources, services and improved quality of life.
Today, that long-term, bountiful investment is in jeopardy.
For the child just beginning to discover the wonder of reading; for the teen striving to make meaningful life choices; for the unemployed adult struggling to re-enter the workforce; for the retired senior desperate to access and understand computers and the Internet so she can share e-mail with her out-of-town grandchildren, there is no substitute for the public library.
There may be dark days ahead for that child, that teen, that unemployed adult, that senior -- and for many thousands of residents of Erie County.
On September 28th, the Library submitted a status quo, hold-the-line 2005 budget request to Erie County’s Office of Budget, Management and Finance. That request was bare bones. It continued to reduce staffing. It continued to control costs. But it sustained public service at 2004 levels.
As faithful stewards of a public trust, the Library Board of Trustees stands by this request. To recommend anything less would compromise this Library System and would represent a disservice to the people of Erie County who rely on the Library for a wide range of important resources, programs and services.
The public library is not a luxury. It is a necessity! Since the recession year of 2001, circulation of library materials across Erie County has increased 21%. Over the same period, library computer use has soared 48%. This year, the Library expects to circulate more than nine million items, welcome and serve more than five million visitors and provide more than 450,000 registered computer use sessions.
What other publicly supported institution can claim such a record of public service and success?
The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is a model of responsible, accountable, regional service to the people of Erie County. The Library has never failed to live within its means. The Library has adapted to the wants and needs of Erie County residents, with performance and output measures confirming that it delivers what Erie County residents demand and consider valuable.
Operation of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is funded primarily through a dedicated portion of the County’s real property tax. Under a proposal transmitted by the County Budget Office on October 18th, that support would plummet from $24.2 million in 2004 to $6.2 million in 2005 – a loss of $18 million. To compound matters, $2.8 million in New York State Aid would be at risk as well, making the cut nearly $22 million – 75% of the Library’s operating budget.
The Library System as we know it would collapse.
On January 1, 2005, hundreds of thousands of citizens who depend on the Library would encounter locked doors, conceivably at more than 50 locations. Millions of dollars of public property: books, media, computers and other resources would be out of reach -- essentially lost.
Consider HSBC Arena. Fill every seat 18 and one-half times and you can count the number of Erie County residents who regularly visit and rely on their local library for materials, services, programs and a place to appreciate them all. For those with limited disposable income and few alternatives for education, recreation, self-improvement and personal growth, the public library is a mainstay.
No other County-funded service touches as many residents as the public library. No other County-funded service shows greater return on investment. No other County-funded service contributes more to the quality of life. No other County-funded service makes the weak strong, the uninformed enlightened and the average person able to succeed in an increasingly challenging world.
Cutting funds and closing libraries is shortsighted and counterproductive. If we want people to remain in Erie County; if we want people to return to Erie County; if we want people to invest in Erie County, we must sustain and enhance our public libraries. We can’t afford not to make that investment in our present and in the next generation’s future.
I urge all Erie County residents to register their outrage over these proposed cuts. We must direct our elected officials at both the County and State level to do whatever it takes to sustain our public libraries, to seek long-term solutions to these recurring threats.
They must not reduce Library support! It is a small price to pay for a positive return that is too great to measure.
The Director and I have met with County Executive Giambra and Deputy County Executive Calabrese to convey our concerns and our commitment to preserve our Library System. We will continue to work with elected officials at both the County and State level to explore strategies to address this current challenge, and we urge all elected officials to work together to find meaningful, lasting solutions.
The Library Board welcomes any opportunity to discuss this vitally important issue with public officials, citizens and constituent groups.
Rebecca Pordum, Chair
B&ECPL Board of Trustees
October 21, 2004