PROSPECT — Members of the Public Library Board appeared before the Town Council Monday night to petition against Mayor Bob Chatfield’s recommended halving of the board’s proposed $8,170 increase to the library’s overall budget.
Though the Library Board sought $252,132 for 2010-2011, from $243,962 in 2009-2010, the Town Council, per Chatfield’s recommendation, unanimously approved an increase of $4,000 (to $247,961), cutting from the proposal $3,000 from the books and cataloguing line item and about $1,100 from proposed pay bumps for the library director, assistant director, and part-time staff of seven.
The board initially sought a 3 percent pay increase for the staff but secured instead a two-percent raise, consistent with that given to all other town workers (excepting public works employees, with whose union the town is still in negotiations).
Library Board Chairwoman Sue McKernan said the 3 percent pay raise the board sought was already a huge compromise, especially regarding Library Director Barbara Smith’s pay.
Smith, who made $46,980 in 2008-2009 and will make the same in 2009-2010, holds a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree and has 30 years of experience. The board sought a pay bump for Smith to $48,389, while the mayor recommended the 2 percent raise, to $47,919.
McKernan noted that the Connecticut Library Association’s recommended minimum salary for an MLS-holding librarian is significantly higher than that. According to the association’s Web site, that recommendation will increase, as of July 1, to $54,080 a year ($26 per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week) from $52,596 ($25.67 per hour, assuming the same).
McKernan said the board was “very frustrated” that Smith’s pay was “well-below that minimum entry-level.”
Smith herself provided the Town Council with a table outlining the salaries of librarians in other Connecticut towns with populations numbering between 8,000 and 10,000 “just to keep [them] abreast of what’s going on.”
Among 12 towns in that population range, Prospect is, according to those figures, one of four towns that will pay their librarians less than the association’s recommended minimum in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
Chatfield said that while the budget can be revisited before being finalized, he does not think the time is right to permit a drastic pay increase.
“I think if you look through the entire budget, you’ll see that many town employees in all buildings are paid less than other towns around us, and I don’t think this is the year to make the big jump,” he said.
McKernan also worried that the curtailed books and cataloguing account wouldn’t be able to keep pace with demand from an ever-increasing patronage.
“As the economy gets tougher and tougher, the library really becomes the hub of the community,” she said, “and I know I get the phone calls when someone comes in and says ‘You don’t have this new book,’ or ‘You don’t have enough copies of this bestseller.’”
According to numbers Smith cited, the library issued 807 new cards and renewed 2,264 in 2009; in only the first two months of 2010, she said, 91 new cards were issued and 337 renewed.
“They are coming in droves to the library,” Smith quipped.
Demand for videos and audio-books is likewise burgeoning.
“In 2009, which is a sign of the times,” Smith said, “our circulation of audio and video materials was 31 percent higher than the previous year. People are not going to Blockbuster, they’re coming to the library to get their brand new videos and popular videos.”
She said many people use library computers to update their résumés or hunt for jobs online.
Loren Webber, the library’s assistant director, echoed McKernan’s feeling that the recession-battered economy made public libraries all that more important.
“Given the economy, people are especially looking toward their public libraries for good, strong, quality programming,” she said, “and we are definitely providing that.”
Though the board voted unanimously to approve the mayor’s recommended cuts, Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin noted the issue could be reconsidered.
“Even though it looks like we’ve finalizing something, we’ve really just kind of sealed off a step we can always go back to,” he said.