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Wantagh, Seaford libraries ask for support amid potential state budget cuts

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Over the past year, libraries in Nassau County have been there for their patrons, whether hosting educational and fun virtual programs or promoting a wide selection of digital resources, like e-books.

“[Virtual programs] have gotten pretty popular,” said Seaford Public Library Director Frank McKenna. “People like it, and I think we’re going to do it even when we have in-house programs here at the library, at some extent.”

But in order to provide services, libraries needs funding. Although the New York Library Association requested $123.1 million in state funding for the 2020-21 fiscal year, library aid totaled $94.1 million. According to the NYLA, the state cited the pandemic as the reason for withholding 20 percent of what was requested.

For the 2021-22 fiscal year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed cutting library aid by an additional 7.5 percent in his executive budget. The proposal comes after a NYLA survey found that libraries have incurred an average of more than $6,500 in Covid-19 related expenses.

In February, the public libraries in Seaford and Wantagh were among the Town of Hempstead libraries to receive federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security act. The Wantagh Public Library received almost $26,000, and the Seaford Public Library received about $14,000.

The funds only cover pandemic-related costs, like personal protective equipment and cleaning services.

“These prospective cuts to library operating aid in the budget that’s being negotiated right now are really going to threaten the ability of our communities to recover from Covid-19,” said Caroline Ashby, director of the Nassau Library System.

Library directors across New York met virtually with state lawmakers on Feb. 26, National Library Advocacy Day, to express their concerns and discuss the role libraries play in their communities.

“I was very encouraged with Senator [John] Brooks,” said Wantagh Public Library Director Shannon Marchese, who took part in the hearing. “He’s part of the new Senate Library Committee that’s working hard to advocate for library funding.”

The Nassau Library System shared a post on its Facebook page on Feb. 11, asking its followers to share what their local library mean to them on postcards and send them to Cuomo and the State Legislature. Nearly 700 postcards have been sent thus far.

McKenna said that the program was very popular among patrons at the Seaford Public Library. One postcard, signed by Staci P. from Seaford, stated that the library is the heart of every town she has ever lived in. She said she used the library every day, browsing the shelves or taking advantage of the digital resources offered online.

Another woman, who signed her postcard Angela S. from Wantagh, said her local library has been a window to the outside world, as she had been able to request book bundles, craft bags and science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, projects for her grandchildren.

“I look forward to email updates each week — it’s a real treat to see what’s in store,” Angela wrote of the Wantagh library, which has been offering both in-person and virtual programs. “To be amongst others during this time, with precautions, is a highlight of my social calendar.”

Funding for library construction had been stagnant for over a decade until an investment by the state in 2018, according to the NYLA. Last year, however, the state slashed funding by $20 million and this year Cuomo has proposed only $14 million for the program.

Cuts in construction aid are concerning, said McKenna, who chairs the Nassau Library Director’s Funding Advocacy Committee. “We’re not happy with it,” he said. “Over the years we’ve gotten funding for the projects that we’ve had done here at the Seaford library.” They included restroom renovations and 100 window and door replacements.

“But there’s always other things to do,” McKenna said. “Our roof has to be replaced this year. It’s 20 years old and it will be going out to bid shortly.”

Ashby said there are also costs that may be higher than patrons understand, such as digital resources. Use of those resources, like e-books, have grown dramatically, and account for a large chunk of the Nassau Library Systems budget.

The best way to support local libraries, Ashby said, is to use them, and to write letters of support to the governor and state lawmakers. To send a postcard in support of a local library, go to www.facebook.com/NassauLibrarySystem/