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Libraries essential to our communities as is their funding

Just as with the small business community, many of our local institutions and agencies continue to struggle amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Most recently we heard the plight of the James V. Brown Library, which faces level funding from the county this year but the potential for a significant shortfall in state funding.

The state is talking about funding only five of the 12 months in the next fiscal year, according to Barbara S. McGary, the library’s executive director.

While it’s not set in stone, “the fear is that that’s all we will receive,” she said. “And that would totally set us back … that would be like a $600,000 shortfall.”

The setback would not be limited to the library, but to its patrons, many of them children who look to the library as a place of learning, and senior citizens, many of whom struggle to make ends meet and have little left for entertainment.

A quick look at the numbers reveals its usage — the library receives 225,000 visitors and circulates half a million items annually, according to its website.

In operation since 1907, its mission today is to be the place to go to learn, connect and grow. The library’s strategic goals “champion the love of reading, open new doors to lifelong learning, provide a haven to those who seek and ensure the preservation of public library services for future generations,” according to its mission statement.

The last part of that is worrisome now in light of the news about state funding. How will the library be able to preserve its services just for the next year, let alone future generations, if it is not able to sustain operations through the pandemic?

The future is uncertain, but we do know a few things about the past. In 2003, funding for the library was cut by 50 percent, and it took seven years to get back to its 2003 funding level.

Should funding be significantly reduced, it will have a crippling effect on the library’s operations.

“We will not be able to have the amazing library that we have now. We will not be able to connect with the community in the way we are now. It will deeply, deeply hurt us,” McGary said.

Of course, the library will have to tighten its belt, just as every other agency has had to do during the trying times that this year presented. But a $600,000 shortfall goes beyond belt tightening. We must stand up for libraries.

To that end, we implore our local lawmakers to take a look at libraries — Brown and others — and find ways to shore up their funding.

They are essential to our communities.

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