24    Sep 20091 comment

Family history: Budget cut problems

LibraryLibraries are a major source of information for genealogists and family historians. In addition to nurturing the love of books in children and young people, they provide wide-ranging sources of information and community services for all library patrons and their neighborhoods.

In fact, 10 New York City Public Library branches in three boroughs (Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island) have been open - since September 14 - for expanded hours from early morning through late night, for an average of 52.5 hours weekly. Some branches are open 8am-11pm, others from 10am-9pm. People who work during the day will now have an opportunity to access major free resources.

While New York's famed libraries - where I spent many hours from elementary school through college - are expanding hours, other libraries are either closing or - horror of horrors - giving away their books, such as this school in Massachusetts is getting rid of its books in favor of technology. Personally, I think it is short-sighted, given the fact that information recorded only a few years ago on such technology as 4-inch floppies cannot be read today, but a book printed five centuries ago can still be read. Do read the comments to this story; there were more than 500 the last time I checked.

However, for many US libraries, the economic situation has caused a major kick to the chest and reduced hours and service cuts are in the news for libraries across the United States.

Indeed, we were shocked to hear that the Free Library of Philadelphia's entire system might be closed as of October 2, 2009, unless Pennsylvania legislators reached a budget agreement.

The closure would have cancelled all programming for children and adults, InterLibrary Loan, circulation of materials, computer classes, afterschool programs and community meetings. This is serious business, not only for genealogists, but for all residents whose neighborhood libraries would close.

However, in Philadelphia, the outcome was a happy one. The Free Library's website reported on Thursday, September 17, that the Pennsylvania State Senate had passed the bill needed to avoid closings. State legislators received more than 2,000 letters (in addition to phone calls and emails) in support of the libraries.

In July, Michigan's governor signed an order to cancel the Department of History, Arts and Libraries as part of the $2 billion state deficits. Library of Michigan collections (representing 180 years of state history) would be housed elsewhere and the building used for other purposes. There is a petition to sign to attempt to stay this move and preserve valuable collections. The last time I looked, there were more than 5,500 signatures. Most signers are members of genealogical and historical societies; read their comments about the proposed closing.

In Canada, the British Columbia provincial government announced a major cut for libraries which could mean reduced hours and services. Click here to read about that plan

In Washington state, the Seattle library system closed for a week to save money. To be fair, the Seattle system also closed its libraries for two weeks in 2002 and 2003 during other economic downturns.

All city departments have been told to reduce spending to make up a $43 million gap in the city 2009 budget. The public library is trying to cut 2 percent, or about $1 million, and the weeklong closing of its downtown central library and 26 branches is intended to save $655,000. About 700 library employees are forgoing a week of pay, and the system will reopen the day after Labor Day. No materials will be due and no fines will accrue during the closing. Library officials cautioned people not to simply leave books or materials on library doorsteps, saying patrons will be responsible for any damage or thefts.

In Colorado, the Denver Public Library plans to close a branch, cut hours and reduce the budget for material acquisition. Following a public survey, the majority of respondents favored reducing hours rather than closing and selling branches, as hours can be increased as the situation improves. Once a building is sold, that branch is gone forever.

How is your local libary doing?

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  1. I am really delighted to read this blog. I live in LA and I used to visit our National library. As a book-lover it looked very odd and painful when we discovered some missing pages of some valuable books. It was really a heart-breaking. We hope that with the intervention of new technology the problem will be sorted out. Thanks a lot.

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