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Statement by Board Chair Rebecca Pordum

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Statement by Board Chair Rebecca Pordum
Erie County Legislature Public Hearing
Friday, November 19, 2004

With 52 locations, mobile outlets and remote access via the Internet, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library offers its resources and services to literally every resident in every corner of Erie County .  Many electronic services are now accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- access that was unimaginable just a few short years ago.  Nearly 350,000 people are regular customers -- enough to fill HSBC Arena more than 18 times!

2003 was the busiest year in B&ECPL's 168-year history!

In 2003, the Library circulated nearly 10 items for every resident of Erie County .

  • 9% increase in circulation over 2002
  • 9% increase in patron visits
  • 12% increase in website visits
  • 13% increase in computer use

2004 continues the record-breaking trend.  To date… 

  • 6% increase in circulation over 2003
  • 24% increase in computer use
  • 12% increase in materials shipped among 52 library locations

And the Library achieves these increases year after year within the budget adopted by this Legislature -- a clear indication that the Library must be doing something right!

It seems ironic and tragic that, as the Library reaches the pinnacle of its long history of successful service to the people of Erie County, it might be forced to close its doors -- all 52 sets of doors, including the Central Library -- at the end of 2004.

The County Executive's proposed RED budget -- which devastates the Library System and doesn't provide even enough money for staff unemployment and termination benefits  -- is unacceptable.

This is what will happen if the RED Budget is imposed either by default or by Legislative adoption:

  • Negative National headlines! American Library Association reports no closing of this magnitude in U.S. history
  • Seniors and children WILL be “left behind”
  • Millions of library books, magazines, audio, and visual materials locked up and unused
  • Literacy materials, homework centers, 700+ public computers unavailable
  • System and all libraries will not qualify for New York State Aid ($2.8 million) and will lose their State charters
  • If charters are revoked, libraries will not be eligible to receive ANY public funds (either state OR local)
  • Economic development efforts hindered: both assistance to job seekers and efforts to attract new employers
  • 400 full-time and 700+ part-time employees laid off. Out-of-town recruiters are already trying to steal our best and brightest.
  • Mandated library service to County Corrections Facility may fail to meet state standards
  • Erie County will be in violation of 1953 state law that created the B&ECPL
  • Federal government will require return of all federal depository materials at County expense. B&ECPL has been depository since 1895!
  • State can require any books purchased with state aid be transferred to another library system
  • Historic collections at risk - reduced utilities lead to inadequate humidity and temperature controls
  • Liability exposure this winter - unplowed/uncleared areas around 52 libraries
  • RED Budget doesn't include funds to pay unemployment compensation and termination costs: $5.9 million
  • Local communities saddled with closed facilities AND the unexpected costs to safeguard them

Library staff has already begun a countdown to closing:

Last day to place requests for materials

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Last day to borrow and renew material

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Return all B&ECPL materials by

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

All book drops will be closed after

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

On September 28 th, the Library's Board of Trustees transmitted a steady state, bare bones budget to the County Budget Director.  With a request for a modest increase in funding, that budget promised to sustain library services at 2004 levels throughout Buffalo and Erie County.

That remains the Library's only official request.

I could produce a very long list of the Library's recent successes and examples of its responsible stewardship of public funds and public property, but what matters most is the people who rely on the Library and how the Library sustains them and improves the quality of their lives.

The Library respects the privacy of its patrons and rarely asks them to divulge personal information -- especially when it might suggest that an individual is underprivileged, undereducated or lacking any other options.  In light of the impending 2005 budget threat, we invited our constituents to tell us their stories -- with the assurance that we would not share those stories without expressed permission.  In less than 3 weeks, more than 1,100 residents of Erie County have told us, in the most eloquent terms, how much the Library means to them.

Rather than outline performance measures and other achievements -- which we are eager to do at any time -- please let me share just a few of these testimonials from real people whose lives are better because Erie County funds a Library System that makes a genuine difference to them and to their families:

“I am on a limited budget and without the library I would not have computer access or the ability to read books that I cannot afford to purchase.  The working poor need this library.”  Pat from Buffalo, who uses the Central Library

“I was on home instruction due to illness and I met my teacher here.  During my illness the library was my haven!”  Nicole from Buffalo, who uses the Kenilworth Branch Library

“The Williamsville Library has been a huge part of my family's life for many years.  Our children used it for research and for recreational reading. When my aged mother lived with us, it was a wonderful source of large print books.  I visit the library weekly to borrow and return books, audio books and magazines.  It enriches our lives and makes us better citizens.” Mary Ann from Williamsville, who uses the Williamsville Branch Library

“I am the primary caregiver in my home for my mom who suffers from dementia.  Her only outside joy in life is watching movies.  I owe the library fifteen often!” Donna of Orchard Park, who uses the Orchard Park and West Seneca Public Libraries

“My family has moved several times, since my husband is a pastor.  When we move, one of the first places we search out is the local library.  The library is a place for my children to meet kids their own ages while they enjoy stories and crafts at the story hour.  It is a place for me to meet other moms and build friendships.  It is a source of education and excitement.” Alyson from Tonawanda, who uses the City of Tonawanda Public Library

“Due to unfortunate circumstances, my boyfriend and I were both looking for work this summer.  We do not have the Internet in our home, and the availability of the computers and Internet access in the public library was invaluable in helping us to find work.” Jennifer from Lancaster, who uses the Lancaster Public Library

“I can't afford to buy books being a single mom, so the library is my only source of getting reading material.” Linda from Buffalo, who uses the Central Library

“I am a college student at SUNY Empire State College, and that means I take my classes entirely online.  The libraries are a fundamental resource in my educational experience because I am not benefited by an on-campus library system.”  Julie of Tonawanda, who uses the Sheridan Parkside Branch Library

“The library has made a significant difference in my life as well as my family's life.  A few years ago, when I was unhappy with my children's education, I turned to the library for information on home- schooling and educational issues.  I found a wealth of pertinent, up-to-date information. The library personnel were extremely helpful, too.  Through my research, I decided that our family would benefit from becoming one of the growing numbers of homeschoolers.  Now, the library provides extensive materials for me to use in lesson planning and curriculum development.  Without the library, our educational efforts would be severely negatively impacted.  Our out-of-pocket expense to provide the type of materials that our library provides would be astronomical as well as cost prohibitive.”  Laura from  Hamburg, who uses the Hamburg Public Library

“I work as a preschool care giver at a child care center.  We read a different book every day.” Sarah from Lackawanna, who uses the Lackawanna Public Library

“I use the library weekly for the large print books.  These books are very expensive and being a senior citizen on a fixed income the library allows me to enjoy my favorite pastime --­ reading.”  Janice from Buffalo, who uses the Cazenovia Branch Library.

These are just a few examples of how the Buffalo and Erie County changes the lives of OUR constituents -- YOUR constituents -- for the better.  There are many, many more.

In closing, I stand behind the Library's original 2005 budget request -- one that continues to economize but sustains current service levels to all Erie County residents.

I urge you NOT to cut the Library Tax!   When property taxpayers see an amount on their tax bill for LIBRARY PURPOSES, they are entitled to some genuine library service -- not just disbursements to furlough staff and board up buildings.

The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library serves so many people so well!  It remains the taxpayer's best return on investment in Erie County's quality of life.  Don't cut the Library's share of the Property Tax!  Give taxpayers some respectable return on their investment.