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Athenaeum faces cruel irony in new fiscal year

Date: 7/28/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- There's a cruel irony within the Athenaeum's fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget: circulation is at an all-time high -- a byproduct of the recession -- but services are being reduced.

The Athenaeum will decrease its hours of operation for the next six months in order to absorb a $50,000 cut to the department within Mayor Michael Boulanger's FY10 budget. The library will close one Monday of each month from July to December -- a savings of $20,000 -- and spearhead a fundraising campaign to make up the difference.

"We are experiencing one of our busiest years ever, so it's unfortunate that we're having to close and having to cut our book budget [by approximately $30,000] but that's the reality that we're facing," Christopher Lindquist, director of the Athenaeum, said. "We don't have any additional revenues so we need to cut our expenses."

The city allocated $811,000 to the Athenaeum in FY08 and $770,000 for FY09; Boulanger's FY10 budget reduced funding for the library to $720,000.

Lindquist explained that 65 percent of the Athenaeum's budget is derived from the city and the rest is funded through state aid, fines, fees and allocations from the Friends of the Westfield Athenaeum and from other donations.

He noted that circulation has increased 13 percent over the past year; requests for reference services rose 33 percent; meeting room use was up by 24 percent; and DVD and video circulation increased 50 percent.

Lindquist said the furloughs will also prevent staff layoffs.

"I commend Chris Lindquist for being so creative in his ability to retain his people while dealing with a relatively severe budget cut passed on [to him] by the city," Boulanger said. "It was unfortunate that the library has to undergo the same budget cuts as other city departments but ... everyone is aware by now of the state and national economy. We'll just have to ride it out."

State Rep. Donald Humason Jr., also a member of the Athenaeum's Board of Trustees, said furloughs were the best course of action. He added that as a member of the Library Legislative Caucus he's still working to override state budget cuts to local libraries.

Over 50 state representatives have signed a letter to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, requesting the reinstatement of Line Item 7000-9401, State Aid to Libraries Local Aid. Gov. Deval Patrick allocated $17.1 million for this line item in FY09 but reduced it to $12.3 million this fiscal year.

"We're taking our hits [financially]," Humason said. "We just have to [play] the cards we were dealt."

Lindquist noted the Athenaeum will send out appeal letters this week to corporate and private donors. Those wishing to make a donation may mail them to Candy Pennington, Westfield Athenaeum, 6 Elm St., Westfield, MA 01085.