By Ron Leir
The Kearny Public Library, struggling to maintain its services in the face of diminished finances and staffing, is calling on the town for help.
Library Board President Barbara Pollock appealed to the mayor and Town Council Tuesday to help take up the slack since the state Department of Community Affairs eliminated all of the library’s $17,000 in state aid.
Municipal libraries are required to meet certain staffing levels tied to the populations they serve. Kearny was obliged to staff four full-time librarians for its population of nearly 40,000 but currently has only two.
“It’s upsetting to us that we’re not meeting those state standards,” Pollock said.
One librarian was among several civilian town employees laid off in 2011 and another retired. Neither has been replaced. And a full-time administrative clerk is retiring shortly.
“We can only claim half the amount of [full- and part-time] employees we had in 2000,” Pollock said.
As for the part-timers, of whom several are still in college or newly graduated, “As soon as they get a better job, they leave so there’s no responsibility for the long-term,” Pollock said.
And, because there is insufficient staff, she added, “we don’t have enough hours.”
In late 2012, the library cut back two evening hours on two weekdays at the Main Library and sliced a full day (Friday) at its branch facility.
“There’s only one night [Wednesday] during the week we’re open until 8 p.m.,” Pollock said. “This isn’t good for people working.”
Despite these disadvantages, she said, the library has managed to acquire computers and new reading tables and lamps for its patrons.
Additionally, she said, largely through the efforts of library director Josh Humphrey, it has expanded its mission as a “community” library by offering programs for adults and children and by completing its outdoor reading garden that will be used for musical, theatrical and poetry events.
Given these successful efforts, Pollock concluded, “Let’s not have the state tell us we’re not worth funding.”
Mayor Alberto Santos sought to assure Pollock that, “it’s not just the library” where budget restraints have been applied.
Actually, the municipal budget introduced by the council March 16 increases dedicated local tax funding for the library, from $1,074,000 last year to $1,130,529 for this year.
That adjustment should allow room for some attempt by the town to address the library’s personnel quandary and, indeed, Santos said the council plans to adopt an ordinance that would increase pay rates for entry-level positions to $10 per hour in hopes that will entice employees to stay longer.
As for adding full-time librarian slots, Santos said he has directed town CFO Shuaib Firozvi to meet with Humphrey to discuss “whether we should advertise, for example, for two library assistants or a librarian or however we set about restoring some of the director’s staff.”
If there was determined to be a need for a “bilingual librarian,” for instance, “that’s not a [job] title we now have and I don’t know what the [job] market would dictate for such a position,” the mayor added.
Humphrey, who outlined his personnel needs to the mayor and council during a closed caucus held after Tuesday night’s meeting, declined to discuss details with The Observer but noted that since he became director in April 2010, “we’ve lost four full-time employees and a couple of part-timers. It just comes to a point where that has to be addressed.”
“It seems like a lot of libraries have lost people through attrition,” Humphrey said. “You can see that trend.”
Pat Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association, noted that, “Since 2005, property values across the state have gone down by 13% and that has a direct impact on local funding for libraries.
“In 2009, the average per-capita state funding for libraries in New Jersey was $67 and as of 2013 [the year for which the most recent figures are available], it’s at $57,” she said. “What we’re seeing now is the sixth straight year of cuts in this program and local libraries are finding it more difficult to meet the state’s standards.”
Reduced hours in Kearny notwithstanding, patrons’ use of the library has continued unabated, with library records showing a rise of about 3,000 in total circulation volume to more than 83,000 between 2013 and 2014, Humphrey said.
Probably the single most popular items, Humphrey said, are “graphic novels” for juveniles (meaning comic books). “Picture books go out like crazy,” he said. “The companies that put out e-books haven’t yet found a way to replicate them.”
Of the 83,164 books and tapes in circulation, more than half – 46,695 – are juvenile books, records reveal. More than 1,500 residents – adults and kids – took out new library cards and about 21,000 adults and youths came in to use the library’s computers last year, records show.
“For now,” Humphrey said, “we can tread water. I would hate to see us cut our hours more than we have already.”