Fiscal struggles continue for Westport library

Library tutor Jordan Smith (right) helps fifth graders Regina Collura (middle), and Jordan Pires with their homework. Although the library and its programs are well-used, state certification is at risk due to the low level of town funding contributions. Library tutor Jordan Smith (right) helps fifth graders Regina Collura (middle), and Jordan Pires with their homework. Although the library and its programs are well-used, state certification is at risk due to the low level of town funding contributions.

Library tutor Jordan Smith (right) helps fifth graders Regina Collura (middle), and Jordan Pires with their homework. Although the library and its programs are well-used, state certification is at risk due to the low level of town funding contributions.

Library tutor Jordan Smith (right) helps fifth graders Regina Collura (middle), and Jordan Pires with their homework. Although the library and its programs are well-used, state certification is at risk due to the low level of town funding contributions.

Westport’s rebuilt library offers a wide array of much-used traditional and digital services but the facility faces daunting fiscal challenges in the coming year.

So says Robert J. Gormley, chairman of the Westport Free Public Library trustees in a New Year’s message.

High on the library agenda is the struggle to maintain vital state certification while operating with a town budget contribution that is well below what the state requires to maintain certification.

“We have no endowment fund, as many public libraries do, though we do enjoy the benefit of several privately given trust funds. These represent our safety net but we have been draining them in order to keep afloat on operating costs.

With the town (FinCom and Selectmen) starting budget season with calls for level funding, the library would be looking at a budget of $174,000, the third year running at that level.

“The state Board of Library Commissioners requires that our town appropriation for 2014 be at least $218,000 to retain certification,” Mr. Gormley said. “Certification isn’t just ‘nice;’ it’s necessary, qualifying Westport for state funds and for continued enrollment in the SAILS regional program for interlibrary loans. Also, for three years in a row we have had to plead with the state for a waiver to retain certification, since the town was unable to meet its required portion of our operational costs.”

Total operating costs for the library—”what the town refers to as a ‘level services budget’ with no additional personnel — are projected at $261,700 for FY2014 without dipping into trust funds once again.”

Mr. Gormley compared the $174,000 level-funded figure ” with local towns such as Fairhaven at $613,000 appropriated for their library back in 2010 and $787,000 in Seekonk, towns of comparable population to Westport. We stand with Rehoboth at $196.500 and Berkley at $105,000, both smaller towns than Westport.”

Mr. Gormley listed some of the free services offered by the library:

• In addition to our own holdings, access to over 4 million items (print and electronic) throughout the Commonwealth via the SAILS network. This includes DVDs you may now borrow from other libraries.

• A Wi-fi setting for individual computer use, as well as seven computers currently for community use.

• Housing the Westport History collection and making a climate-controlled room available for browsing.

• Community use for groups of the new Manton Community Room

• Seeking to remain open 50 hours/week instead of the current 40 to better serve the community, if our new budget allows.

• Providing a mix of cultural and educational programs for children, toddlers to teens, as well as adults.

• For family genealogies we offer a library version of Ancestry.com, which can be accessed from home.

“Most of you are well aware of the sea-change underway in the publishing/library world, what with the digital revolution fast overtaking the printed book, magazine, journal and newspaper life we have known. The availability and use of e-books, the widespread sale of I-pads and I-pods, Kindles and Nooks and the like, finds new owners looking not only for help in using the devices but for what our public libraries can provide in the way of  resources for reading on the screens. We are building, slowly, our own Westport library electronic collection, but the regional SAILS network of libraries featuring e-books and materials is available to you and can be ordered directly from your home computer.

Mr. Gormley also thanked and congratulated several individuals and groups:

• First off, kudos to Jordan Smith, a 2012 graduate of UMass Dartmouth, who’s seeking a high school teaching post and is currently a paraprofessional at WHS. He’s also serving as an intern for us at the library this year, monitoring the 40, 50, or sometimes more children, mostly middle school, who join us daily from 3 to 5 p.m.. Jordan helps them with homework and provides oversight to relieve the staff. He will make a fine teacher someday soon, and Westport is fortunate to have him in the meantime.

• The Trustees also want to take this occasion to thank our director, Sue Branco, and our asst. director/children’s librarian, Linda Cunha, for their fine work under continuing budget constraints in 2012. Sue and Linda are the only full-time employees we have, the rest of the able staff being part-time, and they give their all for the town. I am sure many of you library card-carrying patrons have benefited by their assistance over the years. Anyone needing guidance with research or the computers, for example, turns to them, since we are not in a position to hire a research librarian or a recently trained computer person, such as they have in Dartmouth, Tiverton, and most of the other local libraries.

• We also applaud Kate Kastner, president of the Friends of the Westport Library (FOWL), for the great work she and her board have done the last few years, raising funds for the library through their book sales (annual and ongoing) and enabling us to purchase books and other resources that the town budget does not cover. The revitalized FOWL also provides free cultural and educational programs for our students. The library would be lost without them. Please become a Friend if you aren’t, and help support us in 2013 with your minimal dues and perhaps a few hours of volunteer time.

• And we want to congratulate Mary Ellen Gomes, director of the Council on Aging, as she heads into a well-deserved retirement in January. Many of our most active library supporters are also regulars with the COA, and we value our relationship with that group and hail the wonderful contribution Mary Ellen has made. In 2012 the library launched a new “outreach” program to our homebound seniors, under the enthusiastic volunteer direction of Beverly Rich. We thank Beverly for her caring service and Mary Ellen and the COA for their warm support in getting us started. If you know of anyone who would like a library visit and delivery of materials once a week, please let us know at 508-636- 1100. We offer a range of large print books, audio books, DVDs and CDs.

“We deeply appreciate your support of the Westport library and look forward to an even better life together in this demanding new era.”

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