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Library Director lobbies for funding

REPORTER FILE PHOTO  Shelter Island Public Library Director Terry Lucas.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO Shelter Island Public Library Director Terry Lucas.

Threatened state and federal cutbacks in aid to libraries would hamper Shelter Island’s efforts to fund capital projects, including installation of a generator that could provide residents with shelter and activities during a power blackout.

Library Director Terry Lucas has tapped Youth Services Librarian Anthony Vutter to participate in Library Advocacy Day on February 28 to lobby legislators in Albany to reject Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget cuts.

If projected cuts in both state and federal aid — he federal budget for 2019 would eliminate most library funding — are sustained this year, library patrons here probably wouldn’t see cutbacks in staff or services because 87 percent of the budget comes from local property taxes, Ms. Lucas said.

But money to sustain those programs at current levels would require siphoning money that The Friends of the Library raise for programs and materials to cover costs associated with capital projects, she said.

Looking ahead, Ms. Lucas wants to purchase a generator, LED lighting and pay for some of the major work recently that reassigned space in the building. A $25,000 state building grant was allocated to help fund that project with the balance of money coming from The Friends of the Library. But if that money isn’t received, more will have to come from The Friends of the Library.

Much as Ms. Lucas is focused on Island needs, she recognizes that half of New York State’s libraries are more than 50 years old and in need of capital improvements. Also, poverty in a number of upstate communities have libraries operating only one or two days a week with a single staffer.

To those who think libraries aren’t essential, Ms. Lucas has a single word: “Wrong.”

They overlook the role they play in education, Ms. Lucas said, citing a report from the New York Library Association that the demand for services has been surging in the past five years among all demographics. The greatest increase is from women 18 to 34; people of color; and households where annual income is less than $50,000.

Libraries are the leading digital literacy educators in the state, according to the NYLA and, according to a 2017 Siena poll, are the primary source of internet access for 20 percent of African American and Latino respondents.

The New York State Education Department, under which libraries operate, calculates for every $7 libraries deliver in services, they receive only about $1 in state aid.

Although libraries are an extension of the educational process, the fight to increase school aid gains more legislative support than libraries, Ms. Lucas said. The governor’s proposal called for a 3 percent increase in state aid while it would cut 4 percent of the money libraries receive.

“We’re not asking for the same money that’s given to schools, but don’t cut our budgets,” Ms. Lucas said.

What works on Shelter Island is public support that comes from local taxes and contributions and interactions among various groups — the school, the Shelter Island Historical Society, and Sylvester Manor.

The Suffolk Cooperative Library System that shares materials among patrons of member libraries also assists a small library like Shelter Island to provide access to a wide array of materials the individual library can’t stock.

The library has received consistent support from Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Ms. Lucas said. If you value the programs and services the library, Ms. Lucas would encourage you to write to Speaker of the Assembly Carl E. Heastie at LOB Room 932, Albany, New York 12248 and Governor Cuomo at NYS State Capitol Building, Albany, New York 12224.