|By Katelyn Gendron|
Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD The decreasing state and local funding for libraries since 2001 has not gone unnoticed by legislators on Beacon Hill.
Earlier this year, over 40 legislators dedicated to the preservation of these institutions formed the Library Legislative Caucus with two goals in mind, according to Westfield's State Rep. Donald Humason Jr., also a founding member of the caucus. He said the goals are to increase state aid comparable to allocations made prior to 2001 and also to draw attention to the value of libraries within the age of information technology.
Chris Lindquist, director of the Westfield Athenaeum, said since becoming director in 2003, state and local aid for the Athenaeum has continuously decreased. He explained that only $72,000 of the Athenaeum's fiscal $1.1 million budget is from the state.
"Having increased state aid to libraries will help Westfield," Lindquist said, adding that decreasing city funding will create a bigger need for state aid. "During tough economic times there is a lot of competition for local funding. As in most towns, police, fire and schools get the most funding. State aid is critical to help us bridge that gap."
Humason explained that the House of Representatives amended the governor's fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget to increase state aid for all libraries in the Commonwealth.
The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the agency charged with maintaining and improving library services state-wide, was budgeted approximately $34 million in FY01, $25 million in FY04 and $32 million in FY08 the highest allocation since 2001.
"We're really reliant on state aid and city support," Lindquist said. "Libraries need to have a voice on the state level and we really need somebody like Don Humason to be our advocate."
Lindquist noted that he has requested $789,250 from the city for FY09. The Athenaeum's total proposed budget for FY09 is $1,118,596.
"We're less than one percent of the city's total [fiscal] budget," he said.
Lindquist explained that the city has historically allocated funding for 100 percent of the Athenaeum's personnel costs; however, in past years only 95 percent has been allocated. He said he is asking the city to reinstate 100 percent funding for personnel.
Humason said he is committed to working on behalf of the Athenaeum, not only as a trustee but also as legislator on Beacon Hill. "Libraries are the cornerstone democratic agency of our town," he said, adding that decreasing funding causes all library patrons to suffer from lack of materials and library personnel.
Humason said he will also work with the other members of the caucus to draw attention to the value of libraries within their communities not only as sources of books but also historical documents, digital images, videos, cassettes, art and a place for community education classes.
"Libraries now are community centers and that's what the Athenaeum strives to be," Lindquist said. "We're not just a library."
State Rep. Mark Falzone, D-Saugus, also chair of the Library Legislative Caucus, said, "Libraries are crucial to jobs, education, economic development, small businesses and entrepreneurs, and especially in a time of economic concern, they have an ever-growing importance to our communities. The Library Caucus will focus on ensuring that our libraries receive the essential state aid that enables them to take advantage of economies of scale and inter-library synergies, so that each library location becomes a portal to our entire Massachusetts system of information and resources."