Friday, October 23, 2009

"NO" on the Library

I respect my fellow Gadfly's opinions, but on this matter we must differ. Here's the letter I wrote to the New Paltz Times explaining why:

I'm an avid reader and I spent a good chunk of my childhood trolling my local library for new books. The librarians all knew my name and were happy to suggest titles I might like. My parents voted "yes" for the library's budget every year when it came up, as we lived in a community that had a library which taxed the residents directly and submitted its annual budget to the voters for consideration. And yet, when a kindly supporter of Elting called me to ask my intentions on the upcoming vote, I was on the fence. I've done more reading on the subject and reached a difficult conclusion.

I support funding Elting Memorial Library. I think we can afford to give them more money than we do now. But Proposition 414 is not the way to do it.

This proposition asks, "Shall the annual contribution of the Town of New Paltz provided in its budget for the Elting Memorial Library, a free association library, located at New Paltz, New York, be increased by one-hundred fifty-one thousand ($151,000.00) dollars annually to three hundred twenty-one thousand ($321,0000.00) dollars annually?" Unlike the mechanism that our library (and all town departments and other outside agencies) presently use, this would not be revisited every year. The library would get that same $321,000 every year unless and until a new proposition was passed by the voters to change it. We would no longer have the ability to ask our library's Board of Directors how they've been spending our money, which is a standard to which we hold our fire and police departments, the ambulance corps which is contracted to rush us to the hospital, our schools and the good people that keep our roads paved and free of obstructions.

I'm prepared to swallow a bigger chunk of library funding in my taxes, but I don't expect the increase to be quite as high as Prop 414 is asking -- mostly because I don't expect our Town Council to support such an increase in an election year. It's not very fair to the library to stake its fate on the political climate, but it's also not very fair to suggest that we should accept an "opt out" tax increase (since we would have to "opt out" by passing another proposition) when every other level of government as some sort of "opt in" mechanism in the form of an annual budget that is either approved by voters or by duly-elected representatives of those voters.

If the Board of Directors of the library feels that the town government is unwilling to share its expenses fairly, I respectfully suggest exploring the option of establishing a library district. Then the library would have the right to bring its case directly to the people -- and every year, the people would have the right to say "no."


Martin McPhillips said...

I would vote to give the library the money it is asking for.

I would also ask the library to please start thinking more seriously about how to generate income for itself. It can do that without compromising its core mission.

My late friend the Mad Scientist used to say about the cancer research institute he worked for, "everyone is too busy looking for a cure for cancer to consider a cure for cancer."

There are answers to the library's problems literally right in front of it.

John Bligh said...

I'm curious how a public library is supposed to generate money. I'm not being cute - I really want to know how (besides late fees).

Martin McPhillips said...

By selling things.

Steve Greenfield said...

Martin, your suggestion reminds me of a joke usually categorized in the lesser-intellect, fair-haired variety (trying not to use insensitive language) where a person walks up to the counter of the library and asks really loudly, "I'd like a burger and fries!" The librarian ignores her and she says, even louder, "I'd like a burger and fries!" The librarian rushes over and whispers "what are you thinking, this is a library!" The person glances around, turns back with a sheepish look on her face, and whispers, "I'd like a burger and fries."

A library doesn't sell things. It lends them. That's what a library is. And it's public, because society has an interest in making the kinds of materials one finds in a library available to everyone even if they don't have money. Libraries also keep home values high. That's how the taxpayer realizes its investment in libraries.

I think what you want is a bookstore. We have that. They sell things, but they're not a library. We have stores that sell general merchandise. They are also not libraries. We have places that sell burgers and fries, too, but no matter how quietly you ask, they aren't libraries.

Terence, I'm glad you take a stand on the ability to hold the library accountable for its use of funds on an annual basis. When I get back before the Town Board on the Moriello Pool issue, where nothing is accountable, ever, but the Town gives them half the operating budget out of taxes, year after year, I hope to see you right alongside me.


Martin McPhillips said...

St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Metropolitan Museum of Art both sell things.

Nothing about their core missions are compromised.

The Elting Library engaged in an ambitious expansion and now has an operating budget to match those ambitions.

There are a number of things it can do in good faith to generate income for itself.

Steve Greenfield said...

Two things jump out from the examples you've given, Martin.

1) neither are libraries -- we're talking about our library;
2) both have severely compromised their core missions, in many ways, to the point where it can be reasonably argued that neither clearly even serves its core mission any more.

Martin McPhillips said...

Amazing. I hadn't realized that St. Patrick's Cathedral or the Metropolitan Museum of Art had compromised their core missions. How about that.

And you're right in your implication, it is certainly true that neither the Archdiocese of New York nor the Met has the standing of a library, especially our library.

Steve Greenfield said...

Well, at least you're admitting you didn't know, so I guess that's progress. Since I lived in New York City for the first 40 years of my life, and patronized both institutions, I had an informational advantage. You are forgiven.

And there was no implication that they don't have the standing of a library -- simply the dictionary definition that they're not libraries. We were talking about a library, not an art museum or a church. We have some of both of those in New Paltz, too. None are a library. There's another library in New Paltz, and they don't sell stuff, either, except, like our library, when holding fundraising sales.

Hey! Our library sells stuff! That's exactly what you wanted! This sort of concludes this conversation, don't you think?

Martin McPhillips said...

Well, to anyone actually interested in the ability of the library to fulfill its mission, it should be the beginning of a conversation. I encourage those who should be thinking about it to do so, whether the voters approve of the additional funding or not.

And in case you actually didn't understand that I was kidding in my previous comment, there has been no compromise of the core mission of either St. Pat's or the Met. Both are in perfectly fine shape and among the best things that the Big City has to offer.

There would be no compromise of the core mission of Elting Library if it sold things -- or if it did more of that if it is already doing it -- in order to generate significant income.

Of all the local cultural institutions it has the best location and the greatest accessibility and there are a variety of ways it can take advantage of that to either sustain its work if more troubled times hit or extend that work in times of plenty.

gadfly3 said...

Isn't amazing that our political class is trying to cut the budget from departments and organizations they do not like but when the library can before them asking that they incrtease the amount included in the budget, in case their rip off fails, by about an addition $75,000.00 they said fine

Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed that the town's proposed budget has slashed the allocation for the library. This is a mark of genius for Toni. Consider this, she winks to the library folks and says the town's cut will help you lobby for the referendum. If the referendum fails, she can turn to the library advocates and say I will restore your cut (and get a thank you). if the referendum passes, she tells the public the budget had to go up because the voters mandated it. Win, win, win for her. Go Toni.