How much library does $20 million buy?

When the state Legislature reconvened Nov. 18 for a special session to chop state spending, Gov. David Paterson pushed for a 22 percent cut to the public library budget, totaling $20 million in reduced funding state-wide.

Though budget revisions have been suspended until 2009, New York librarians worry that postponing cuts will only cause them to be deeper in the new year.

"There is a lot of talk. Every year we go through cuts but this definitely goes a lot deeper than before, and it's going to hurt a lot of libraries throughout the state," predicted Kathy Morris, director of Fairmount Community Library.

But how exactly would a 22 percent funding decrease affect public libraries? Books already paid for and lining the shelves are not going anywhere - so where would library patrons feel the pinch?

It's true that cutting funding to libraries may not affect the number of books already on hand - but it could change how often they are available to you.

Among the often-overlooked expenses of library systems are the inter-library loan service and the delivery costs associated with it, as well as the catalogues and databases available to patrons.

Cara Burton, director of Solvay Public Library explained that smaller, suburban libraries "piggyback" resources available at larger branches.

Electronic resources require maintenance costs, so when funding is tightened they may not be as readily shared among smaller facilities. Not to mention the fuel costs required to transport books between branches.

Maxwell Memorial Library Director Katy Benson said one way libraries receive state funding annually is through Local Library Services Aid checks - last year Maxwell received about $5,500 through that type of funding.

That dollar amount translates to more than 300 books, but could go toward children's programs, special equipment and materials like audio books as well, Benson said.

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