Library director reckoning with state cuts

Shelter Island Library Director Terry Lucas.

Libraries aren’t just places where people borrow books and do research, but community centers providing programs and services for people of all ages and interests.

That means they need space to teach skills, share information, hold lectures, workshops, meetings of all kinds and activities for students from preschool through college and provide adults with a wide scope of events.

When Shelter Island Library Director Terry Lucas reviewed the New York State budget for the new fiscal year, she was quick to notice a $20 million cut in building grants. Not only that, but gone was the previous practice of allowing smaller libraries, whose individual projects might not rise to the level of a building grant, to be able to combine projects to qualify for funds.

She had just finished listening to the audio book “Palaces for the People,” by sociologist Eric Klinenberg, which demonstrates the way places like libraries, schools, gardens, churches, parks, swimming pools and similar gathering places help even poor societies survive difficult times. He warns how their absence could doom a community without a social infrastructure.

Such kinship is a critical component to why so many Islanders live longer here compared to other Long Island towns, Ms. Lucas said.

The shared activity among so many organizations helps keep people connected and meets many of their needs, she said.

It’s exactly why the budget cuts concern Ms. Lucas.

She doesn’t want to have to say no to any group needing space to meet, or limit new programs from developing at the library because of a lack of space to accommodate them.

The director believes many federal and state legislators would be surprised to learn that in 2018 alone, the small Shelter Island Library had 99,739 individual visits from people of all ages. And that says nothing about other events held outside on the library grounds during warm months and at other venues during the year.

Those legislators would be surprised to see the daily line of students who end their school day walking across to the library for study sessions, games and special events.

At the same time, Ms. Lucas wishes she could separate space for the older students from the younger ones, but the reality doesn’t allow for much distance between the two groups.

Every year as she budgets, Ms. Lucas observes increases in lines over which she has no control, such as hikes in costs of insurance and energy. She wishes there were more money to “go green,” not just to decrease energy costs but to “do the right thing” by the environment.

Thanks to funds from Friends of the Library, she is able to take advantage of some opportunities that arise. But more often than she would like, she has to reject, for example, certain speakers because their fees are beyond the library’s budget.

Ms. Lucas said she’s still grateful that Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) have shown concern for library needs and provided funding for some individual projects.