Letter to our Legislators: Please Support Regional Library Funding 7000-9401
Lisa Wenner, Library Director of the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, MA writes:
Dear Legislators ,
Thank you for all the good service you provide for those in your district as well as the hard work you and your colleagues perform for the people of the Commonwealth. I appreciate how difficult it is especially in hard years such as these. I am writing to you today about our Regional and town libraries, services they provide to the citizens of Massachusetts and the draft plan that would eliminate our important Western MA Regional Library System (WMRLS). I am also very concerned about the plan that could outsource our Regional delivery system beginning in FY2012.
As you know, librarians and library patrons in the Western Region have been working hard to tell legislators the story of libraries, particularly in Western Massachusetts. I have heard that two of Governor Patrick’s priorities this year are putting people to work and making government work better. Libraries in Massachusetts are working towards these goals too.
Each library, no matter how large or small, works with jobless people each day. We provide free computers with internet access as well as up to date materials on resume writing, networking and job search techniques. I was in the Northampton Job Center the other day and saw eight computers in use by folks looking for work. Here at the Meekins and other area libraries you will also find people doing the same. We provide a place where out of work people can come and stay all day if necessary, borrow books and other items for free and search and apply for jobs online.
Libraries work hand in hand with local and state government to provide information about our state and government; disseminate tax documents, information on parks and recreation as well as town- wide information. In small towns, libraries are often open weekend and evening hours that other local government offices are closed.
We could be doing more. Instead of cutting state library budgets and dismantling a system that works, legislators could be looking at our efficient Regional Library Systems as a way to bring up to date information and assistance concerning jobs and training to every city and town in the Commonwealth. Why not build on what works well to help the state make it through hard times, not destroy a working infrastructure that supports libraries, which in turn provide the civic glue that keeps our communities and citizens strong.
When I visited the office of one legislator on Library Legislative Day her aide told me that since I wasn’t a constituent that they were not interested in talking to us. I should have told him that any constituent in her district is able to use any library in the state through statewide reciprocal borrowing agreements– and they do! Massachusetts has a library system it can be proud of. Through regionalization of our library system all of our towns and cities are linked and exchange millions books, journal articles, DVD’s and other recreational and educational items each year. Reciprocity is the key word. And it works!
The proposed merger of the Regional Library System will bring a decrease in quality and quantity of service to Western Massachusetts Libraries and hence to its citizens. The proposal to locate a new Massachusetts Library System in the 495/128 corridor in 2011 is a frightening step backward. Since 1961 when Western Massachusetts formed as the first regional library system with a mission to bring cohesion and service to libraries in the Western Region, library service in our area has steadily grown and improved. Because of WMRLS, the 91% of the library directors in the state working in small libraries who are without graduate degrees are able to get the professional training and support they need to do their jobs in a rapidly changing profession.
WMRLS trains librarians in current and advanced library techniques. Meekins Library staff has attended workshops and classes in the following: Early Childhood Education, Health Information Services, Computer classes of various types, School and Homework Support, Readers Advisory Services, Preservation of Materials and many others. Through the Region’s efforts and installations, 30 small libraries provide Internet service where there was none before. Additionally, the Region’s Thrive grant provided circuit riders who actually worked in many small libraries updating their collections and helping them automate. Who will take on projects like these once WMRLS disappears?
WMRLS handled 1.8 million items through delivery in 2009. Seven FTE drivers delivered items to 140 of their 316 libraries from Sheffield in the Southeast corner of the state to Holland near Sturbridge. WMRLS Delivery Specialists have been on the job from 3-30 years. They drive from 150-220 miles each day through all kinds of weather. They cover 23 routes each week. I know from years of personal experience that they care about each library they visit. They are a source of news and information about other libraries and about goings on in the region and state. Because they sort the materials they pick up right on the truck during the day, our libraries receive their materials much more quickly.
The current plan is to put all state library delivery out to bid at the end of 2011. Interestingly, WMRLS has bid out delivery in the Western Region, and it was found that on the long back roads of rural Western Massachusetts, the current in-house delivery system to the 81 small libraries in our region was more cost effective. These libraries have limited hours; the WMRLS Delivery Specialists let themselves in with keys and pass codes.
We know that Governor Patrick stood up to Hyatt Hotels in October of 2009 when they tried to fire maids and outsource their jobs. We who work in libraries worry about the same thing happening to our Regional staff. We worry that workers will be laid off to be replaced by a private contractor with a “business model” designed to turn a profit from the work of over-scheduled and under-experienced van drivers. We who work in libraries hope that the legislature and the Governor will see the parallels between Hyatt Hotels and the dismantling of the Regional Library System and losing our delivery personnel.