October 12, 2012

Don’t take library funding for granted

Last year, after a storm that knocked out power, hundreds of residents camped out in the Katonah library, one of the few places that had power and Internet service. It was a curious experience to see laptop users lined up alongside the thousands of “dead trees” on shelves.

As our town libraries in Katonah, Pound Ridge, Bedford Hills and Bedford Village all prepare for special events, the trustees, librarians and library patrons recognize that a library is not just about the books on the shelves, but a hundred other things: the computers available for Internet use; the DVDs, CDs and MP3s for lending; programs for senior citizens, adults, kids and their families; and as a quiet space for reading and reflection. Importantly, libraries form a bastion for free speech and our rights as Americans to access ideas and diverse points of view.

Yet our libraries are particularly hard hit whenever budgets are cut. While their personnel costs rise, they are especially vulnerable to state and local cuts and, like other municipal entities, these increases are now limited by state tax caps.

In Katonah, according to its library’s board president Ed Baum, it will cost $300 an hour just to sustain current level of service and staffing. The library needs $75 of that $300 from private support without considering cutbacks, including curtailed operating hours.

In doing research for a story from the 1950s, we were shocked to find that hundreds of rolls of microfilm may be considered obsolete and must be replaced at the cost of $75 a roll — a cost that is not included in any budget. But when you consider that the microfilm contains town history from defunct publications, it is an expense that we cannot afford to lose. Yet that is only one of many resources in jeopardy.

The Bedford Free Library provides an itemized list of costs: one DVD costs $25; one book on CD, $25; five current bestsellers, $150; up to the $1,200 annual cost of the photocopier lease and $1,500 for one year of magazine subscriptions.

With the town board already seeking department-wide cutbacks throughout Bedford, it is hardly likely that library funding will increase.

In Pound Ridge last week, voters approved a budget of $586,223, of which the library board asked the voters to allow $524,853 of the total to be raised by taxation, an increase of $.08 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. That means that more than $60,000 must be raised through donations to the library or via the library foundation.

To that end, Bedford Hills, Bedford, Pound Ridge, Katonah and other libraries are increasingly dependent on community outreach. This weekend, Katonah’s annual fundraiser, “Autumn in New York and the Books that Changed Our Lives,” takes place at the library and features a live auction, appetizers and entertainment.

The Bedford Hills Free Library has launched an ongoing book sale, offers library tote bags for sale, and hosts ongoing programs like the popular Halloween parade — this year’s is Sunday, Oct. 28, with the participation of the Bedford Hills Lions — to help supplement spiraling costs. We take for granted that our libraries will always be there when we need them — including when storms knock out our Internet at home.

It is appropriate that a recent gathering at the Katonah library of the science-fiction book group discussed Ray Bradbury’s classic novel “Fahrenheit 451.” The book describes a world in the future where books are labeled subversive, the government employs firemen to burn them, and ownership of them is a crime. Only the actions of a heroic fireman, one who takes a stand and recalls their meaning, enables the society to rebuild itself. Books “show the pores in the face of life,” says one of Bradbury’s characters. Books can “go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion.”

Such is the life of our libraries, home to thousands and millions of microscopes to illuminate society’s pores. Like any fiction, we recognize that Bradbury’s world is outsized and maybe improbable. But maybe not. Their wellbeing is the responsibility of all of us.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

  1. Scotts Corner Market – Trinity Corners Shopping Center;  55 Westchester Avenue

  2. Pound Ridge Sunoco — 66 Westchester Avenue    

  3. Sam Parker Country Market — 257 Westchester Avenue    

Bedford Village

  1. Bedford Rexall Pharmacy — Hunting Ridge Mall; 424 Old Post Road  

  2. Village Green Deli — Village Green; Routes 22 and 172    

  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

  4. Village Service Center —193 Pound Ridge Road (at Long Ridge Road intersection)    

Bedford Hills

  1. Bedford Hills Deli – 7 Babbitt Road    

  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road

Mount Kisco

  1. Teamo/Mt. Kisco News – 239 Main Street    

Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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