Running the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library Like a Business
The following story was published at artvoice.com, a Buffalo, New York alternative press weekly:
The concept of the public library gained steam in the 19th-century, when it became recognized that an educated and literate population was an overall plus for a society. Of course, one of the biggest supporters of the institution in the US was Scottish-American business titan Andrew Carnegie, who pumped more than $60 million (in 19th-century dollars) into building nearly 3,000 such libraries around the country, which were then to be supported publicly.
Fast-forward to 2010, and it’s clear they ain’t making businessmen like Carnegie anymore—at least not in Erie County.
The last time the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries were facing drastic cutbacks, in 2005, there was strong opposition from the Board of Trustees and library administration. Not so today.
Timothy Galvin is president of the Buffalo and Erie County Librarians’ Association. He’s also the manager of interlibrary loan, e-branch electronic resources, and phone reference services. He’s been a librarian with the county for 22 years. Speaking after the public protest that drew a couple hundred library patrons and supporters to Lafayette Square on a cold Saturday afternoon, he explained, “The library trustees are not part of our advocacy. They’ve chosen not to support us, even though it is their job to do so.”
A message sent to library supporters by Sharon Thomas, chair of the B&ECPL Board of Trustees, explains it this way:
For the past few weeks there has been an abundance of letters and comments published in the Buffalo News, on Facebook, listserves and back and forth through e-mails about the Library System’s current situation. Some of the comments are positive, some negative, some accurate, some inaccurate and some malicious in nature.
It is most disturbing to me and my fellow Library Board members that some people are intent upon criticizing the actions of others. While the trustees have not endorsed the rallying type of advocacy which occurred back in 2005, we have certainly been working behind the scenes to get our message directly to the elected officials and to the public.
As about 230 full and part-time library workers are being told they will be out of a job sometime after January 1, and hours are being slashed at branches to such an extent that they will no longer meet state standards, some are wondering if there is more to the board’s flaccid advocacy style than meets the eye.
While usage has been shooting up, and less than two percent of the county budget goes to libraries, it’s difficult to understand why the trustees aren’t taking the opportunity to have it out with Collins. But then, there’s the fact that since 2007, five of the trustees have given nearly $20,000 to Collins for Our Future, the county executive’s political war chest.
Among them, Anne Leary ($1,000 or $3,000, if you count a joint donation with her husband), Rick Lewis ($10,000), Hormoz Mansouri ($1,000), John Schmidt, Jr. ($600), and Wayne Wisbaum ($4,349). B&ECPL Executive Director Bridget Quinn-Carey gave $200 between March 2009 and June 2010.
If you add in the $30,000 contributed since 2007 to Collins for Our Future by Victor Rice, president of the Library Foundation of Buffalo & Erie County, you see that this small handful of powerful people gave almost $50,000 to put Collins in office. One can only hope that they are in fact using that influence to advocate behind the scenes to persuade the county executive to preserve this public institution for the benefit of the all.
Collins named some of these people to their positions on the B&ECPL Board of Trustees. Now it remains to be seen whether they have the will to advocate on behalf of library supporters.
In the meantime, the public continues to organize their opposition to library cuts. Concerned supporters are urged to sign an online petition at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/savebecpl/.