Many people have never heard of the Nassau Library System, and even if they have, they may not know how vital it is to the efficient operation of our libraries. The system has seen budget cuts for the past 10 years and has made do by cutting staff, but now the state is considering reducing library funding even more. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to cut another $4 million from libraries in the 2017-18 state budget, which is due April 1.
There are 53 independent libraries in Nassau County, and all depend on the NLS. “We all offer our patrons the same no matter how small we are because of the [interlibrary loan] system, which is all facilitated by the Nassau Library System,” said Arlene Nevens, the director of the Sea Cliff Library. “They deliver the interloan books to us for our patrons.”
NLS hosts library websites and assists with web design. “They also help us negotiate subscriptions for databases and catalogue books that we can’t catalogue,” said Michele Vaccarelli, who has recently taken on the job of director of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Library. “They provide staff development workshops for us and help to strengthen our libraries.”
Additionally, library directors hold their meetings at NLS, which is headquartered in Uniondale. Directors discuss any issues they face with the NLS staff, including needed repairs at the libraries.
“The Nassau Library System was created by the state and has been funded by the state,” said Nevens. “Even if the governor restored the $4 million, it would not bring us back to the same budget that we had 10 years ago.”
Because of past state cuts to NLS, libraries, which are funded primarily by property taxes, have had to contribute to the system. The Sea Cliff Library is a municipal library, and village trustees include it in the village budget.
The Oyster Bay-East Norwich Library is a school district library. There is a separate line listing its budget when voters consider the annual school budget.
“If [the governor’s] cuts are made, it would definitely affect us at the Oyster Bay Library,” said Vaccarelli. “It would affect us in applying for construction grants, because the Nassau Library System can only give us a certain amount of money in a grant.”
The governor is also asking for a $5 million cut in state aid for library construction. State Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Republican from Syosset and the chair of the Senate Education Committee, has been working to maintain the state’s funding for libraries. “We will restore it in our budget, and I’m sure the Assembly will do the same thing,” Marcellino said, adding that the governor did not put the funding in his budget. “He is saying he won’t pay for it, but he generally doesn’t pay for it anyway. We will fix that and add to it.”
Marcellino couldn’t say what the final budget would be for libraries, but he was confident that, at the very least, it will not be cut by $4 million. “We will keep the libraries whole,” he said.
But libraries are concerned because the construction grant program has been cut back by the governor in the past. “We have asked the legislators to get that back too,” said Nevens, pointing at the crumbling walls in the library. “Our library is 100 years old. We replaced the stained-glass windows using the grant money, but we also need energy-efficient lighting.”
The grant is a matching grant, Nevens explained. So the libraries are not just taking from the state but also participants in any upgrades.
Many of the libraries in Nassau left petition letters at their circulation desks for patrons to sign, including Oyster Bay and Sea Cliff. The letters, which were mailed to state senators and Assembly members, asked that cuts not be made. “We collected over 117 letters,” Vaccarelli said.
Patrons at Sea Cliff Library were also asked to make calls, Nevens said. “We did this to show them we are here,” she said. “The legislators told us we needed to step up our game.”
Although people have computers at home, they continue to find libraries valuable. “We are finding that the library is a community center now,” Nevens said. “It always has been, but today people are so isolated by technology. They’re looking for human connections.”
There are high-speed computers at the libraries, and opportunities to read newspapers, she said. “At Starbucks or even a restaurant, people are on their phones,” Nevens said. “When people read a newspaper at the library, they begin to chat. In this contentious time we live in, with the antagonism, the library is a safe place.”