The New Jersey Library Association opposes the actions of Mayor Tony Mack of Trenton to turn the operations of branch library facilities of the Trenton Free Public Library to an organization outside the authority of the Board of Trustees of the Trenton Free Public Library.
Legally, the materials, computers and equipment currently housed in the Trenton Library branches are the responsibility of the board of trustees. Although the mayor is a member of this same board of library trustees he has never notified his fellow board members of his plans for these facilities. Everything within those buildings legally belongs to the board of trustees of the library.
This unprecedented attempt to bypass the current legal structure for library services will divert much needed library resources to volunteer-run community centers that will lack both the ability to maintain or update those resources and the expertise with which to serve the public’s information needs.
Who will oversee the operations of these library facilities?
Under New Jersey law, only a certified librarian is authorized to oversee the direction of a library. A librarian’s position requires a master’s degree, and, when serving a city as large as Trenton, should have had extensive library management experience. In addition, trained library staff should be available to assist residents. Today’s library goes well beyond books- it is computer training, electronic resources and programming. This requires the expertise of trained staff.
What is the role of volunteers?
The mayor’s proposal states that “volunteers” will run the library. How have the volunteers been trained? Have they undergone the proper background checks to work with the children and families of Trenton?
In May 2011 the New Jersey Library Association issued a policy statement on the use of volunteers in Public Libraries. It states “Public libraries provide essential services to the community; the use of volunteers enables libraries to maintain and even enhance these services. It is imperative, however, that all key functions of the public library be staffed by people with the appropriate level of professional or paraprofessional education and training. There is a place for volunteers in areas of library operations, but no volunteer should ever be put in charge of a library function that involves fiscal, confidentiality, or liability issues. Volunteers should not be regarded as a solution to budgetary deficits.”
We believe that the duties of any volunteers who will be in these facilities should be evaluated based on this statement.
Where is the funding coming from?
The budget of the Trenton Free Public Library has been reduced drastically during the past two years. It has been these budget reductions which have caused the closing of the branch libraries. Has additional funding been found and if so, why hasn’t it been given to the library board of trustees to restore hours?
The New Jersey Library Association supports efforts to restore library hours in any community. During this recent recession funding for public libraries on both the local and state levels have suffered tremendously. We deplore the closing of library branches in the cities like Trenton, Newark, and Jersey City. These are places where the community needs library services the most.
The Trenton Free Public Library is one of the oldest libraries in New Jersey. It has a long history of providing library services to its residents. Under the laws of New Jersey, the library board of trustees has the legal responsibility over the operations of the library in a municipality.
Library facilities must be open and accessible to residents of Trenton. This proposal, however, fails to provide the residents of Trenton any assurance that they will receive the type of library service they need. A room full of books does not make a library.
The New Jersey Library Association urges the mayor to withdraw this proposal. We support a solution where concerned library board members, community leaders and volunteers join their efforts in a solution which would provide the best public library services to the residents of Trenton. We stand ready to assist in these efforts
Issued by the New Jersey Library Association April 30, 2012
SAFEGUARDING AND PRESERVING LIBRARY SERVICE IN OUR DISTRESSED ECONOMIC AREAS DURING THIS ECONOMIC DOWNTURN, WHERE PER CAPITA SPENDING IS FAR BELOW STATE OR NATIONAL AVERAGES FOR THOSE WHO MOST NEED AND USE LIBRARIES TO IMPROVE AND EMPOWER THEMSELVES AND THEIR FAMILIES IS A PRIORITY.
New Jersey's distressed economic areas have been hardest hit in this recession and the effects on Libraries and residents have been devastating. Hours and services have been slashed and numerous library branches have closed. Eleven branches have closed to date, including all four branches in Trenton, three branches in Camden City, both branches in Bayonne and two branches in Newark. Furthermore, eight libraries in communities with an unemployment rate greater than 11% in 2010 including Milford, Newark, Woodbury and Dover, sustained funding declines greater than 12% since FY2007.
Distressed economic areas in New Jersey do not have the ratable base to provide sustainable library services at the minimum funding levels. Library service in our population centers must be preserved during this downturn through transitional funding.
THE STATE PER CAPITA AID PROGRAM IS UNDERFUNDED BY 62%, THEREFORE WE ARE SEEKING FULL FUNDING OF $9.7 MILLION PER N.J.S.A. 18A:74-3.
The Per Capita State Aid Program is direct aid to every local library. Funding of $9.7 million would restore the program to full funding as specified in N.J.S.A. 18A:74-3, which would provide $1.11 per person of state funding for library service in New Jersey. The current funding is $3,676,000, or approximately $0.42 per person. To fulfill the commitment to the state per capita aid program we seek an additional $5.9 million.
State aid to school districts was over $10 billion in FY2012, which included an increase of $804 million in the last year. As a major educational component in the community, public libraries serve the entire community, including serving as a key resource for homeschoolers, many charter schools, senior citizens and the unemployed.