YORK – ‘The book’ on Kilgore Memorial Library since October 1 has been a story of a monumental effort in the face of a debilitating challenge.
Fifth-year Director Deb Robertson spoke to York Optimist Club members about many aspects of their local library over lunch Monday, but mostly about a Problem with a capital P that rhymes with ‘B’ and that stands for Budget.
This is the first public library duty station in a long career in the field for Robertson who holds a master’s degree in library science. She came to York from a position on the academic side at Briar Cliff University at Sioux City, Iowa.
“I’ve been having fun in the public library arena,” she said. That’s because, unlike more single-focus facilities such as the one at Briar Cliff, in a public library, “Anything goes” as to services a community needs and expects. “People” in a place like York “are interested in everything,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Clearly a good bit of the fun has gone out of the job of late in recent months. How could it not in light of a budget hammer that has fallen hard on the library and its staff?
The overall York municipal budget debacle is a matter of much public exposure and head-scratching statewide. No need to rehash all of it here. Robertson’s education session with the Optimists of shocking numbers for just the library alone demonstrate the city’s big-picture problem in graphic terms.
“The budget has been reduced to very, very, very small funds for our collections,” she said in taking up the topic of the budget.
Small indeed. The allowance for all collections and materials, $72,000-plus in the last budget, has been whacked by 60 percent to $28,500 in the financial document that began when the fiscal year opened on October 1.
“We just divide that (new, lower allotment for collections) by 12 and do what we can per month,” she explained.
The ‘collections’ entry in the budget is extensive and runs from children’s books to magazines and newspapers, DVDs and much more.
“So it’s a deep, deep cut,” she said, stating the obvious.
She said a list of titles that were to have been purchased under the former budget was pared down drastically to accommodate the new financial plan. As a result the staff ended up with a list of books that were necessarily – and sadly – were scratched.
During the coming Friends of the Library Soup Sale on Saturday, Nov. 24 at the library, she said, a Christmas tree will display cards, each bearing the name of one of those passed-over titles. Members of the community are invited to pluck a tag or two from the tree and sponsor those specific books at the library.
“We hope people will help,” Robertson said.
The grand total for cuts across the entire library, she said, runs to $156,755.
Robertson has asked Friends of Kilgore Memorial Library, effectively the library’s booster club, to concentrate its efforts less upon T-shirts and similar promotional projects in favor of a total monetary focus upon programs and collections.
“We have a great group of advocates, too, that popped up” when the library’s plight went public. Of the committee that formed to beat the drum on social media and testify before the city council, she said, “I didn’t know a lot of those people.” However she sings their praises now.
Naturally for a public library charged to serve all residents regardless of demographics, a wide and extensive variety of programs is vital, too.
Not so much in the coming fiscal year, though, in light of the 70 percent descent in spending for that category of operations from $9,000 to $2,500.
“So that’s a significant drop” too, she said.
The bank of computers within the library walls, Robertson said, is used extensively and is especially indispensable for folks who do not own a computer of their own when time comes to complete online job applications, government forms and the like.
The slice of the budget pie ear-marked to obtain and maintain them also took a 70 percent hit. That fund is down to $2,250 from $8,300.
The cuts, Robertson hoped, would stave off another potential crippling development, but to no avail.
“I was trying to save my staff,” she said. But even with the cuts, “I was not able to do that and we lost a (full-time) staff member. Now a valued part-timer is moving along as well.
“It’s getting to the point where our (number of) hours (open to the public) are starting to be impacted,” she said. If a staff reduced by 1.5 full-time-equivalent employees stretches itself too thin covering the present generous hours, they too will soon be seeking a greener pasture.
It is, she said, “difficult to stop thinking about what we could do and should do,” if the dollar situation were more healthy.
The cuts seem doubly unfortunate in light of numbers that project the city and county taxpayers’ investment in Kilgore Memorial Library in relation to what those dollars yield as a community asset.
That calculation, one which Robertson said is based upon a standard formula from the American Library Association with Kilgore’s specific activity records plugged in; indicate the investment of $528,410 in the previous budget grew value to library patrons in excess of $1.5 million.
Using a dollar bill donated on the spot by Optimist Steve Hannon, Robertson made the argument point-by-point and in moments grew Hannon’s $1 into $4.
Robertson said the library “was threatened in my humble opinion” when a comment was made at a county commissioner meeting that perhaps it’s not needed in the first place. When the comment went silently unchallenged for several days, Robertson contacted the American Library Association for advice about what she might do in defense of the library and was told she could certainly “advocate” for it … but only to a point.
One thing she can do for sure is enthusiastically and vigorously disagree with such thinking.
“Some commissioners don’t’ understand the need for a public library,” she said, “but fortunately most of them do.”
Robertson acknowledged that fact by noting York County government actually boosted its support for the library from $15,000 to $17,500 in the coming year.
All the pencil pushers and bean counters aside, what’s the bottom line of most importance to Robertson? “I believe in my heart we are an asset to this community,” she said.