Friday, February 25, 2011
By James Lomuscio
Maxine Bleiweis: “This is like taking away the foundation.” Contributed photoImagine having a Weston library card and being told you cannot withdraw a book from the Westport Public Library. Or from any Connecticut library outside of your hometown.
To make matters even more restrictive, your hometown library cannot request the book you want from another state library that has it.
Though it sounds like dystopian fiction, if not gleaned from from the days of horse and buggy, Westport Library Director Maxine Bleiweis says it is a strong possibility if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget plan is approved.
Malloy’s proposed budget calls for cutting $281,000 from the Connecticar, a van system that transports books to and from all of the state’s libraries, academic and public.
It also proposes cutting $704,000 from the Connecticard program. In place since 1976, Connecticard allows state residents to borrow books from every public library in the state, with the libraries being reimbursed.
“Connecticut can’t boast the natural resources of many other states, but it can boast about its brain power,” said Bleiweis. “It’s one of the facets of life here that attracts companies. A highly educated populace is dependent on the information that is found in books that are on our library’s shelves.”
Westport Public Library, which last year had residents from 105 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities check out more than 300,000 items, is reimbursed an average of $100,000 per year. Malloy’s plan calls for cutting it to $48,000.
“We would have to create whole new ways of doing things,” Bleiweis said. “If this happens we would have to rethink letting anybody who is not a Westport resident from using this library.”
“Every day, Westport Library welcomes people from the cities of Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford, as well as rural areas where libraries are barely open,” she added.
Westport requests an average of 400 books a month from libraries statewide “for Westport residents, many of whom are writing books, researching their next business plan and adding to Connecticut’s economy.”
“Over 800,000 items are lent statewide between public, academic and corporate libraries because there is a system in place to transport them,” she said.
She added that Nook, Kindle and iPad are not ready to replace the van.
“The governor and his staff may be thinking that the electronic word is going to replace the print book world soon enough, so that this cut will have a small impact,” she said.
She added that Westport, which circulates about one million items a year, is far from poised for a wide scale, electronic replacement.
“If the fourth wealthiest community in the state where I work isn’t ready for this, just imagine what the 164th community, Bridgeport, is or is not ready for,” said Bleiweis, a Bridgeport resident.
She went so far as to say that if enacted the cuts would amount to a First Amendment issue since the result would be an infringement on the public’s access to information. She also likened the end of Connecticar to newspapers and other media outlets not being able to use wire stories or share information.
“I understand what he (Malloy) has to do, but this is like taking away the foundation,” said Bleiweis. “I can only have faith that if the governor’s budget does not get adjusted, that the legislature will make the adjustment, and that this would be the last cut to be made.”
Posted 02/25/11 at 10:00 AM Permalink
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I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library. ~Jorge Luis Borges
I’m an avid reader, although I usually purchase my book, but if not having that van is the worse thing that happens…
The library is not only a resource for those of us that are avid readers, but it also helps us develop and acculturate our smallest citizens into inquisitive little men and ladies. This requires us to have access to a wide range of materials that not even the Westport library has the means to buy. By being able to lend between libraries, it extends our reach to information that is invaluable as parents, teachers, neighbors and friends. This is the same as cuts in education, which when done directly receives more high profile media coverage. Please, call your representative and state senators and ask for this to be spared.
Would it be so bad to charge non-residents to check out material? Would it be so bad to charge residents for access to books from other libraries? Maybe $1.00 per item? I don’t know, but I think user charges should be part of the discussion.
The Gov is asking everyone to share the pain of putting Connecticut’s financial house back in order. In the long run, this will inure to be benefit of everyone. In the meantime, everyone has their pet cause that they want exempted. And if everyone succeeds, we will stay in the untenable deficit mode that we are currently in.
I love libraries. They fill a vital role in our community and in our society. I remember when the library charged $1.00 or so to check out video tapes. Then the charges went away, I was told by Ms. Bleiweis, because of some state sharing program involving non-residents. User charges have been, and can be, part of the landscape.
Not everyone can afford the pain, therefore this program (educational) needs to remain. As Elizabeth stated, contacting your representatives and state senators is the way to see that it does. This is for the kids future; keep it intact.