A small budget cut jeopardizes Connecticut’s intellectual capital

A small, almost unnoticeable, cut in the state budget could have a devastating impact on the thousands of Connecticut residents who use public libraries.

Since 1976, the state’s libraries have implemented one of the most cost-effective methods imaginable of resource sharing in a state that has turned away from formal regionalism and has 169 separate municipalities.

The Connecticard program allows state residents to borrow books from every public library in the state with the promise of reimbursement to the libraries who are in the net plus column.

Connecticar, the van system that supports this service, transports books to and from all the state’s libraries, academic and public. It serves not only those who read for pleasure but also researches, who other wise would not have access to materials they need.

To achieve a savings of less than $1 million, the governor has proposed eliminating funding for the transportation system and significantly reducing reimbursements.

I’m in a unique personal situation to address this.  I am a Bridgeport resident.  That means my hometown library is not open on Sundays or most evenings when I am able to use it.  In my professional life, I am the Director of the Public Library in Westport, serving one of the wealthiest populations in the state.  Every day, Westport Library welcomes people from the cities of Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Stamford as well as rural areas where libraries are barely open.  Last year alone, Westport circulated over 300,000 items to out-of-town residents from 105 of the 169 towns thanks to this unique program.

At the same time, Westport Public Library staff are requesting over 400 books a month from statewide libraries for Westport residents, many of whom are writing books, researching their next business plan and adding to Connecticut’s economy.  Over 800,000 items are lent statewide between public, academic and corporate libraries because there is a system in place to transport them.

Connecticut can’t boast the natural resources of many other states, but it can boast about its brain power.  It’s one of the facets of life here that attracts companies.  A highly educated populace is dependent on the information that is found in books that are on our library’s shelves.

The governor and his staff may be thinking that the electronic word is going to replace the print book world soon enough so that this cut will have small impact.  Westport alone circulates almost a million items.  If the 4th wealthiest community in the state where I work isn’t ready for this, just imagine what the 164th community-Bridgeport– is or is not ready for.

Even if we were to put an iPad or a Kindle or a Nook into the hands of every state resident, there isn’t enough content that is digitized to meet the needs of the consumer.  Maybe in 5 years, maybe in 10, but not now.  The number of books borrowed and loaned through this system has gone way up over the last few years, not way down, as one might have expected.

I urge the governor to restore the less than $1 million that was cut.  It makes possible the practical resource sharing across town lines, resources that have already been spent locally and are now available to all.  The return on investment is far, far more than a million dollars.  Let’s not dismantle one of the most cost-effective services that feeds the backbone of our economy-the transfer of knowledge into the hands of those who need it.

Maxine Bleiweis is director of the Westport Public Library

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