Town library is being "loved to death"
Every day the New Canaan Library is occupied by freelancers working their nine to five at a desk, students collaborating on school projects and community members searching for their read of the week.
At a Town Council meeting last Thursday, Secretary Kit Devereaux described the library she sees during weekend visits: "Sometimes on the weekends [the library] is like Grand Central Station. And the library is in the process of being loved to death by the residents of New Canaan. ... It needs some TLC."
In its current budget proposal, the library is requesting that the town put forth 78 percent of the nearly $2.4 million budget. The town supported 72 percent of the library budget last year.
"We have hit a proverbial wall," New Canaan Library Director Alice Knapp said. "Even with dramatic increases in revenue on the private side, we have not been able to keep up with building maintenance and repairs, staffing during key service times and the equipment that our community needs."
In the last fiscal year, library circulation increased by 11 percent, reference queries increased by 10 percent and computer use increased by 9 percent.
In New Canaan, the average number of library visits per capita is 24.2, which compares to an average of about eight visits for libraries across Fairfield County.
While Knapp attributes some of the spike in library use to the recession, she said that it is also indicative of a larger trend in which library circulation has increased by 25 percent in the last four years. Knapp said she anticipates that the trend will continue to climb with a modest increase in library use this year.
"Our budget was never set up to handle this kind of increase in use," Knapp said. "Now we are really seeing an erosion in the quality of our core services."
The increased use has caused visible strains on service areas, Knapp said. There are wait lists for children's programs and popular book titles and lines at the circulation desk. Too often "out-of-order" signs hang over the screens of the library's computers, she said.
The bulk of the requests in the library's budget proposal would fund supplemental part-time staffing, technology upkeep and building maintenance.
Included in the building maintenance portion of the budget is a $14,420 line item for the replacement of a 1970s carpet in the mezzanine.
The library building dates back to 1913.
"Over the last five years we've spent close to $1 million on our building; of that about $30,000 was from our capital fund, $70,000 was from the Friends of New Canaan and another $130,000 was from private donations that we solicited," Knapp said.
The budget also targets to beef up the library's technology services. More than $78,000 is slated to support catalog and network infrastructure, which includes Web site hosting, printing management and service fees. About $43,000 is proposed to cover information technology costs like computer and file server replacements and the purchase of a self-checkout station and a SMART Board.
"One of our big goals is that students receive the same support at the public library as they do in the school libraries," Knapp said. "This should be seamless for them. They should just know that if they need help, they can go to a librarian. But right now we're seeing a real disparity between what the schools are able to provide during the school day in staffing and technology and what we cannot provide."
The proposed budget also includes a 4 percent collection expansion.
"Ideally, I would love to have more than a 4 percent expansion because our use has gone up 25 percent and we know that we have long wait lines, but 4 percent was realistic for us to keep up with inflation and allow us to ... start purchasing more e-content and e-books," Knapp said.