Statewide library program on chopping block

A small line in Governor Dannel’s Malloy’s state budget could mean big problems for Connecticut’s interlibrary loan program.

Malloy plans to eliminate funding for the Connecticar service and slash Connecticard payments by more than half.

“It would hurl this little library back into the middle ages, quite honestly, because we depend heavily on that service,” said Marsha Durley, director of the Beacon Falls Library.

Connecticar shuffles about 2.75 million books, DVDs, and other library materials between 260 libraries throughout the state. It works in conjunction with Connecticard, which is the statewide library card, allowing users to check out and return books from any library in the state. The program reimburses libraries for the costs of lending to out-of-town patrons. In 2010, Connecticut citizens borrowed 4.9 million items through Connecticard.

It’s especially vital to small libraries, like Beacon Falls, whose 1,200 square feet can only house a limited number of books on its own shelves.

Beacon Falls sends and receives about 2,500 items per year through the program, and that number is rising.

“That service enables us to get the books that we don’t have here to our patrons here,” Durley said.

Barbara Smith, director of the Prospect Public Library, said the library received 30 to 40 books per month just for the library’s five books clubs.

“Two percent of what would circulate are books we’ve actually gotten from other libraries,” Smith said.

The Howard Whittemore Memorial Library in Naugatuck did not have money to purchase its own books this year, but people were still able to get books that aren’t in their collection by requesting them through Connecticard, according to Joan Lamb, the library’s director.

“This service is too important to be eliminated,” Lamb said.

Libraries throughout the state are urging their state legislators not to eliminate and reduce funding for these programs.

“There’s a huge advocacy for this service,” said Walter Magnavice, director of Connecticar.

He said Sharon Brettschnieder, director of library development, is working with the state librarian and appropriations committee to try to shift funding to cut in other areas of the state library rather than eliminating the interlibrary delivery service.

“Our patrons, which are our libraries, are our best advocates,” Magnavice said.

If they are not successful in changing the budget, libraries might be able to continue the service through contractors, Magnavice said, but only the most affluent libraries could afford it.

“I really don’t know what we will do. Our patrons are going to be extremely disappointed,” Durley said.

Without funding for the program, patrons will have to go to other libraries to pick up materials themselves, some of which are housed in libraries across the state.

Durley said the cost of sending books in the mail would be outrageous. She said she could stop at libraries along her commute to pick up books on the way in to work, but that would not be a viable solution in most cases.

“Needless to say, for one of our staff members to get them, it would not be cost effective with the cost of gas and mailing them would be expensive also,” Smith said.

Durley said the program saves the state money because it allows libraries to pool resources.

“This program works beautifully. It’s cost effective. It’s not an expensive program when you stop to think how many books get transferred and borrowed,” Durley said. “It’s a small, tiny bit of the state budget, but it has a profound effect on libraries.”

Last year, the Connecticar program received $265,709 in state funding, and they requested $253,559 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

This does not include funding for contractors, who handle about 60 percent of the program’s volume, including delivery to Naugatuck, Prospect, and Beacon Falls. However, the contractors could not operate without the state supporting them.

“This is the brain of the operation,” Magnavice said.

Connecticard payments this year totaled $1,256,679, but Malloy is recommending a budget of $521,545 for the next fiscal year.

“I think (Connecticar) provides a need for our community to get materials that they would like and to help encourage the love of reading,” Smith said.