Library Emerges As Budget Winner

Stephanie Addenbrooke PhotoTwitterWhen lawmakers voted on New Haven’s new city budget, someone had reason to cheer: City Librarian Martha Brogan, whose team’s lobbying efforts—a mixture of social media and old-fashioned bring-out-supporters-in-person—led to the creation of four new full-time positions.

It was the library system’s first budget increase after years of cutbacks.

Brogan (pictured above) said the new four positions will include two librarians and two library assistants, who will help to stabilize current operations. They were included in the $509 million city budget passed last week by the Board of Alders—a budget that trimmed six other positions requested by the mayor and, in a companion capital vote, eliminated a requested new school project.

Despite having a sparse staff, the library has extended its hours due to demand from the city and the general public. The extended hours put a strain on the full-time staff and meant the library became increasingly reliant on part-time staff and volunteers. That’s the case Brogan and other members of the library board made at city budget hearings this spring. Even though it meant other cuts in order to avoid raising taxes, the Board of Alders agreed to allocate $170,000 to create these four new positions.

In 2000, the New Haven Free Public Library (NHFPL) had 73 full-time staff on its payroll. Over the course of 15 years, this number fell to the current 38, a decrease that has not correlated with the number of visitors visiting the library, according to Brogan. The library’s main branch on Elm Street just increased its hours of operation to help accommodate for increased usage. The four new positions will stabilize these increased operations, Brogan said, as opposed to adding any further hours.

The main role of the new positions is to improve services in the neighborhood branches. Currently, Brogan said, the staff at NHFPL’s four neighborhood branches are feeling the strain, as each branch has only a handful of workers.

“These branches are the unsung stars in our system,” Brogan said.

Brogan said she hopes to have the four new staff members employed shortly after July 1, when the new city budget will take effect. At the Wilson branch in the Hill, Brogan is looking for someone knowledgeable with neighborhood and community groups. At Westville’s Mitchell branch, she seeks someone who can focus on the children’s library.

The library system may never return to the days of 73 full-time staff members, Brogan said, but the library board continues to keep aspirations high. The current goal is to reach 54 full-time staffers by 2017.

Twitter Markeshia Ricks PhotoBrogan presented her plans for the additional staff to the Board of Alders on March 5 and April 8.  (Read about the March appearance, pictured at right, here; library advocates were among the evening’s only speakers.) Reflecting on the process, Brogan said it was inspiring to see so many members of the public show their outward support for the library. The library asked visitors to write why the library is important to them on whiteboards. Staffers took photographs of them with their signs and posted them on social media. The attached hashtag #becauseofnhfpl showcased the community’s support of the library in a “totally authentic and not manufactured” way, Brogan said.

“We have a lot of appreciation for those who contributed to the campaign,” Brogan said. “We are so thankful to the community for showing the Board of Alders the potential of this library.”

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posted by: HewNaven on June 3, 2015  2:32pm

Libraries deserve full funding. They are extremely desirable places for low-income residents, and for a variety of reasons, not just shelter. In places like NYC, public libraries receive more visitors than museums, sports arenas, and performing arts centers ALL COMBINED.

The city’s libraries — the fusty old buildings, and a few spiffier modern ones, planted in all five boroughs — had 37 million visitors in the last fiscal year, said Angela Montefinise, a spokeswoman for the New York Public Library, which runs branches and research centers in Manhattan and the Bronx and on Staten Island. The Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library have their own extensive systems.

So the city’s libraries have more users than major professional sports, performing arts, museums, gardens and zoos — combined.