Monday, December 14, 2009

Call For Support For Westchester Libraries

It's budget crunch time in Westchester, which means it's time to review the importance of libraries to our way of life. Following is some information I sent recently to my county legislators.

Westchester County funding support many of the services the Westchester Library System provides to our 38 members libraries and the 480,000+ Westchester citizens who have library cards. I venture to say that the 7.5 million visits paid to Westchester’s libraries annually exceeds public use of just about any other institution in the county. County support is vital in providing the services that make those libraries important contributors to our economy and our way of life.

Here are some of the WLS functions funded in whole or in part by the county:

Central Catalog of 5.4 million items. We expect to add 280,000 listings in 2010, handle 850,000 “holds” for patrons, and continue to expand El Catalogo En Espanol, our unique service for this growing portion of the Westchester community. By supporting the Central Catalog instead of expecting each library to provide its own catalog, the county not only provides an essential service to library users, but saves local libraries hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Inter-Library Loan Service delivering 2.8 million items. This county-funded program enables local libraries to purchase fewer items for their individual collections while still giving patrons access to a wide range of materials. Through WLS, the cost per delivery transaction is only eighteen cents.

WLS IT Services provides maintenance and support (not to mention centralized purchasing) for over 1,000 computers at member libraries. The free public Internet access enabled by this service is essential to job-hunters, students, and others with limited or no Internet access at home.

The WLS WEBS Education and Career Counseling provides employment counseling for over 3,000 Westchester job seekers in programs held at member libraries.

The WLS Health Advocacy Resource Centers assists 2,800 senior citizens (and others) navigate health insurance and services.

All of these programs and services contribute to the economic well-being of Westchester County, which is but one compelling reason for continued support in the county budget. In addition, of course, our quality of life is greatly enhanced by the libraries in our communities. This year, for example, over 43,000 children attended more than 2,650 programs at member libraries and read more than 557,000 books as part of the Summer Reading Program. Westchester librarians answer some 1.6 million reference inquiries each year.

As economic hardships press upon them, we can only expect Westchester’s citizens to turn more and more to their local libraries for help finding jobs, learning new skills, improving their business operations, managing their health care expenses, and dealing with the vicissitudes of today’s economy.

The generous support provided in past years by Westchester County has helped WLS and its member libraries meet the demands of the county’s citizens in an efficient, cost-effective manner. I urge the County Legislature to continue that support in the 2010 budget year.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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