Friends Group Plots Library’s Rescue

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June 8, 2011; Source: Star-Ledger | Are public libraries "anachronistic?" Not according to the American Library Association, which says Americans still check out an average of seven books a year. In addition, for some, libraries are their only access to the Internet and more than 65 percent of the public rely on the services they provide to job seekers.

Yet because of shrinking state and municipal budgets, many public libraries are being closed or are struggling to remain open. Thankfully, in some communities local supporters are coming to the rescue. An editorial in the Star-Ledger, praises a volunteer group for its novel approach to helping keep a community's branch library open at least one day a week. It adds that the smart thinking of this volunteer group could serve as a playbook for other cash-strapped libraries.

As the newspaper tells it, a local nonprofit group raised $20,000 for a self-checkout machine and security system for a Montclair branch library. In addition, "50 library lovers – stay-at-home moms, retirees and others with flexible schedules – agreed to staff the Bellevue Avenue branch library for free." Now only one librarian is needed to help visitors find books or assist with research.

According to the Star-Ledger, volunteers spent three months inserting security strips in the thousands of books in the library's collection. Now patrons who want to borrow books, check themselves out using the self-service machine. Anyone who tries to leave without scanning the title and getting a receipt indicating when the book is due back, sets off an alarm.

Still, as the editorial notes, private money isn't a permanent fix. "Not every community can drum up enough volunteers or donations to keep their public libraries open, particularly those that are less affluent . . . But until a long-term funding plan is created, this is an innovative stop-gap solution. Overall, New Jersey has more libraries than it needs and can afford. Yet many communities still rely on their local branches and don’t want to give them up. If a public-private partnership can save them from imminent closure, why not?"—Bruce Trachtenberg