Vineyarders turn to library collections in tough times
It is the best of times and the worst of times for public libraries on Martha's Vineyard. Library usage, as measured by circulation and visits, is way up at the very time that funding is being slashed. The Island's library directors say they are a barometer of the state's and nation's worsening economic crisis.
For example, Oak Bluffs Public Library director Danguole Budris said attendance figures for December 2008 went up 14 percent over the same period in 2007 (4,322 visitors in '08 compared to 3,790 in '07). And the circulation of materials was also up 13 percent in that same period (6,748 "checkouts" versus 5,978). The rise in demand comes as town officials are asking the library to spend less than the amount already budgeted for this fiscal year (FY 2009).
"We are not getting the new computers we were expecting this year and the ones we have are five years old and should be replaced," said Ms. Budris. "This situation is serious. Demand is growing and we are expected to save."
Ms. Budris is hoping that the library will be able to continue to be open five days a week. "The children's program we had here yesterday was packed. People who used to go away to warmer climes at this time are not going away so they need more programs. Libraries are filling the bill."
At the Chilmark Free Public Library, circulation was up 8.2 percent in November 2008 (3,913 "checkouts" versus 3,617) and up 4.3 percent in January (3,912 items borrowed versus 3,752).
"We are seeing some astounding changes here," said Chilmark Library Director Ebba Hirta. "More people are coming in with laptops and using the free wi-fi here because they have cancelled their Internet service at home. Movie borrowing is way up because people are canceling their Netflix service." Movie borrowing was up 8.8 percent in January, compared to January '08, and increased a whopping 26 percent in November compared to the same month in 2007, she said.
"Some people we had not seen in a while are back," Ms. Hirta added. "They have quit using Amazon and are coming back to the library."
Chilmark town officials have asked the library director to submit a FY 2010 budget that shows no increase in spending. Similar requests are being heard around the Island. "The only way to get there is to reduce availability," Ms. Hirta said. "To cut services would be the way to reduce availability at the very time that people hurting the most need us the most."
Public libraries on Martha's Vineyard each receive a small state grant, but the money has been slow in coming and future payments are not assured. The Vineyard Haven Public Library, for example, expected to receive $7,300 in this fiscal year but has only received about half that amount. "The state says if they have the money in the fourth quarter they will give us the rest of the grant," said Library Director Amy Ryan.
The Vineyard Haven library's attendance is up 10 percent over last year, according to Ms. Ryan. For example, December '08 the library had 6,556 visits compared to 5,314 visits the same month the year before. A first-ever annual appeal for donations orchestrated by Friends of the Library volunteers in June 2008 met its fundraising goal of $10,000, according to Ms. Ryan. Because of these funds, and overall donations in the past, Ms. Ryan does not expect to have to make cuts in services or materials.
There has also been an increase in people using the library computers for job search information. "We are getting questions about help with resumes and application letters," said Felicia Cheney, director of the Edgartown Public Library.
The Edgartown library is also seeing a huge increase in movie borrowing. "The general population has shifted to a 'get it for free' mentality and a couple of years ago people did not know what we had here," said Ms. Cheney. The Edgartown Public Library has only received about 60 percent of its state funding grant this fiscal year, but the library also has a sizeable endowment, so cuts in funding are not expected to impact the purchasing of materials.
However, the Edgartown Library is also expected to operate with no increase in its FY 2010 town funding and so something may have to give, like cutting operating hours or staff. To avoid such a move, Edgartown will have to tap into its private funds. "If I use the endowment principal, the following year I could be in a bind," Ms. Cheney said.
At the West Tisbury Free Public Library, circulation was up 40 percent in December over the same month a year earlier (9,997 items borrowed in '08 versus 7,208 in '07). "People are looking to the warmth of the library, the sense of community," said Library Director Beth Kramer. Library visitors are staying there longer to chat with friends, read a book and perhaps just to enjoy the warmer temperature than they may have registered at home, Ms. Kramer added.
And the Aquinnah Public Library is no exception although it is relocated to temporary space while renovations are completed at its building. "A lot of Islanders are looking to the library to support their recreational lives, to do things that they would normally spend money on," Library Director Jennifer Christy commented.
The public's interest in programs and entertainment is far greater than it has been in the past. As Island towns struggle to create lean budgets, library directors are hopeful that any economic stimulus legislation will include language that will ensure that libraries also receive assistance.