Friday, December 11, 2009
Gleason Library: a look at the books
How a major town asset is managed
What would Carlisle be without the Gleason Public Library? Its popularity is evident on any afternoon, when a crowd of middle schoolers jockeys with parents and seniors in line for checkout. In a recent town survey, 60% of respondents of all ages considered the library an
important or very important source of participation in the community, far surpassing any other venue. But with budgets under attack across town government, can the library continue to thrive?
Angela Mollet, Library Director, came on board in 2003, and has overseen steady growth in circulation, in programs and in volunteerism. Continuing that growth will be an on-going challenge. Last week, she spoke to me by phone from her maternity leave at home, offering information and perspectives interrupted occasionally by the opinions of her newborn son.
The town budget for the library has stayed flat for the past three years at about $500,000. It comprises between 90 and 95% of library funding. Outside of the project to repair the brick façade, financed through the Community Preservation Act (CPA), the library has had only one capital request in the past few years, $12,327 for computer replacements in FY06.
The rest of the library’s funds come from a variety of sources, including The Friends of the Gleason Public Library (FOGPL), the endowment, grants and private donations. Excepting the Gift and the Hollis Funds, all library funds are restricted to enhancements, not budgetary items, but “defining enhancements can be tricky, especially in this time of budget cuts,” says Mollet.
The FOGPL, established in 1966, is “an organization of interested people who support the library.” It funds most of the programming, including speakers, performance artists, and arts and crafts. In addition, the Friends may donate museum passes and library materials. In 2008 the FOGPL funded a $5,000 photocopier, but most grants are smaller. The FOGPL raises most of its money from the yearly book sale held at Old Home Day. As of September 15 the Friends account held $8,378. A minimum balance of $5,000 is retained each year.
The Gleason Public Library Endowment Fund was established in 1983 with an initial gift of $20,000. As of October 1 the account was valued at $131,604. Five trustees administer the fund: the three library trustees, the president of the FOGPL, and the director. All interest and part of the principal can be granted, but $10,000 must be retained in the account. According to Mollet, this is the library’s long-term capital and the goal is to conserve and grow the balance. Occasional amounts are granted, most recently to match a private grant to establish the “Teen Area” in the library.
Within the endowment, the Susan Zielinski Natural Science Fund, established in 2009, benefits the natural environment and people of Carlisle. As of October it held $7,902. It underwrites programs and materials in geology and ecology through grants of $200 per year.
Library Trustee Priscilla Stevens notes that many Endowment monies, including the Zielinski Fund, have designated uses or restrictions. If they are unrestricted they have to be reserved for enhancements, items which are not part of core services and operations. “It means the Endowment can fund additions to the building, for example, or the building of a branch library, but not essential repairs to a library building which is in use,” she says. “Those are considered part of the town’s yearly operating budget for the library.” She adds, “We had to seek town funding (in this case, CPA funds) for the current building project because it is an essential repair and restoration project, not an enhancement to the building. The 2000 addition, however, was partially funded by the Endowment, as it was considered an enhancement.”
The Gift Fund is held by the town for donations to the library. It is not an investment fund, and is unrestricted unless preferences are expressed by donors and agreed to by the director. As of October 1, this fund contains $15,199, all available.
Several trust funds are held by the town for the library. As of October 1, they total $387,850 of which $304,601 is expendable. They include:
The Melone, Green and Richardson Funds, all administered by the Town Treasurer on behalf of the library. The Melone Fund is the result of a bequest of $99,220, while the other two funds were started with bequests of $1,000. Only the interest can be expended, and only for library enhancements.
The Hollis Fund was formed when a 1994 bequest by Ruth Hollis resulted in the town’s receiving $273,487 for the library in 1996. Town Meeting approved expenditure of $320,000 from this account for construction of the Library addition completed in 2000. The current balance is $128,224, all unrestricted.
The Library Incentive Grant is state-funded and is usually around $6,000, but was cut this year. It requires certification that the library has met criteria established by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, including minimum hours of operation, director education, and additions to collections based on population served. These funds may not be spent on operations or personnel. In past years they have financed equipment and building expenses. If unused, they are accumulated in a fund, which currently has a balance of $21,774. The Trustees hope to keep a $20,000 balance against emergencies.
Other grants are applied for as they become available. Mollet estimates that about $30,000 in grants have been awarded to the library since she came on board. Most recently, a $10,000 readers advisory grant administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners provided professional development, technology and collections enhancements, and awareness of technology geared to improving readership. Mollet calls this “a very positive exercise” but notes that grants are time-consuming, and often require extensive reporting and documentation.
The library has also received anonymous private grants of between $5,000 and $10,000 each of the past three years. These have been used to enhance programs for teens and establish book groups for children, teens and adults, which were so successful additional groups were formed. Mollet especially appreciates that staff hours for planning were possible, “Most of the time working at the desk it’s busy” and the staff needs meeting time to “move the program forward.”
Other grants are received from the Council on Aging, the Garden Club, and other town entities for collections and museum passes.
Many patrons would be surprised to hear that fines are not part of the library budget, but go into the town’s General Fund. “We don’t want to be reliant on fines,” says Mollet, noting the perverse incentives to raise them that might result.
Of the $500,000 allocated by the town for the library, 70%, or about $350,000 goes to salaries, including two custodians. Materials comprise $95,000, with $55,000 dedicated to automation, supplies and building expenses. Asked by the town Finance Committee to recommend 10% budget reductions, Mollet says, “Collections would take a big hit.” Research has shown that “Keeping hours is what the community wants,” and cutting hours does not necessarily reduce the workload. Even when open hours were down in the summer, circulation continued to rise. “If we have to be here, we might as well be open,” she says.
But if cuts must be made, Mollet notes the library has resources to draw on. The FOGPL has discussed ideas for additional fundraising. More grants could be sought, although with staff hour reductions, there’s less time for paperwork. Donations of materials could be solicited from the community, but Mollet notes a “time issue” with sorting and cataloging. Museum passes, magazines and foreign films are easiest to receive and most valued. Book donations to the June Book Sale are often perused for needed volumes.
Mollet says one of the greatest library assets is the volunteer base that includes high school volunteers, senior tax workers, and other members of the community. Over 1,900 volunteer hours save thousands of dollars in operating costs each year while allowing the Gleason Library to remain among the top ten libraries in the state in per capita circulation. “Volunteers will jump on the bandwagon where needed,” says Mollet. “They make this a really dynamic place to be.” ∆
© 2009 The