The public library, in general, as a local institution in the "Information Age" is at a crossroads. The decision that needs to be made now by our Union City public officials, is whether the city wishes to invest and renew, or detach and abandon.
As a Union City Library Board Trustee, it is frustrating seeing the libraries of neighboring communities receive significant investment and renewal (for example: Hoboken's, Weehawken's, Jersey City's library renovations and Secaucus' new multimillion dollar library construction proposal) while the Union City Public Library continues to receive low priority, or more accurately "no-priority", among city budgeted items.
In 1992, Union City's funding of the public library was $950,000. In 1996, it was $650,000. In 1999, it was $475,000.
Statewide, in New Jersey, the average level of funding for a city's public library amounts to approximately 2.5 percent of a city's budget. If Union City were to fund its library at the average level, then 2.5 percent of Union City's budget amounts to approximately $1.75 million per year.
It is sad, and embarrassing to say that Union City currently only gives $450,000 a year to run two library branches, the legal minimum funding.
This amounts to a pathetic 0.6 percent of its budget. That's only $7 per resident per year compared to an average of $29 per resident in other cities in New Jersey.
Because of poor funding on the part of the city, and the need to run a morem efficient and effective library, one and one-half years ago, in July 1999, the Board of Trustees of the Union City Public Library entered into an agreement with the Union City Board of Education to share services. This necessitated a painful staff layoff, the hiring of new professional personnel, and a complete restructuring.
Despite such a tight, restrictive budget, much has been done, and much is on the way near term.
We are able to provide significant services and still produce a balanced budget. I am happy to report that $54,000 in this year's budget is targeted for new books, of which $18,000 has been spent. A substantial Spanish language literature section has been created. We finally have Internet access. Fifteen new computers will soon be set up, as well as our own Internet server. Our new security system will soon be in place, (to stem the continued theft of new books), as well as an automated online catalogue system, an interactive website, and yes, more great new quality books !
I am very grateful to the Union City Board of Education for picking up the responsibility of the City of Union City. Without the involvement of the Board of Education, and the amicability of key members of that board who always have an ear, the Union City Public Library would have to shut its doors permanently.
Although such an agreement of shared services between the Library Board and the Board of Education has had significant benefit to the Library, it is not a long term solution to the library woes, but rather only a temporary fix to the downward spiral of city funding support.
Staff costs are now only half of the Library's operating budget. We have a very efficient structure in place but employees are being stretched to the limit. The city is not giving the Library sufficient moneys to operate.
Increasing funding now is not throwing money at an inefficient system, but rather would go towards expanded services, much needed library infrastructure and more hiring of qualified professional staff librarians to better serve our residents.
If we wish to transform Union City's stagnating economy and consequent perpetual budget crisis and have our city experience a much anticipated renaissance, via new public development projects, and via private industry development and investment, we must simultaneously support the necessary "informational infrastructure" to service the professional labor which will manifest such a renaissance (e.g. college and graduate students, lawyers, doctors, engineers, new high-tech company employees). Currently, because of such a low funding level, our library cannot service this professional informational infrastructure.
As the library directly serves the residents of Union City, the Union City taxpayer should request that a significant fraction of their moneys go towards their public library.
In the spirit of the original Carnegie Trust funding, for which our city's founding fathers so eagerly desired, and which, by popular vote, committed the city to the building of its public library 96 years ago, we need our public officials to fully support a thriving Public Library that would offer the very finest informational resources and services for all our city's residents, of which all residents can be proud.
The library needs a renewed commitment on the part of our current elected city officials (mayor and commissioners) and any aspiring future city officials. They should be compelled to make vocal their commitment to the full revival and flourishing of our city library. Great cities have great libraries.
And with the current competent library leadership and efficiency of the library staff, this can be done by restoring full funding.
The residents of Union City need to have their voices heard concerning the library, and not just by disjointed frustrated blurbs in the local paper.
Perhaps the best way that can be affected, is for residents to pool together their desires, wishes, dreams, energy and efforts; residents who care about the importance of the role the public library must play in the well being of our city.
For these residents, I have great news !
Most effective libraries have organized official advocacy groups called "Friends". Ours does not. As this indeed is one of the fundamental reasons why there falsely appears to be public apathy towards our library, I wish to take this opportunity to announce the formation of the "Union City Public Library Friends, Inc." This group's mission is to be the key to promoting coordinated public advocacy, volunteerism, and much needed fundraising for our library.
Organizational meetings for the Friends, Inc are underway and a full membership meeting will take place in early January, as well as the launching of our website "www.uclibrary.org" in the new year.
If you wish to join the Union City Public Library Friends, Inc., please provide me with your contact information, via telephone at (201) 583-0279, postal mail at Union City Public Library, 324 43rd Street, Union City, care of Joe Sivo, or drop me an e-mail at "email@example.com".
Dr. Joseph Sivo, Jr.
Union City Public Library Trustee
Union City Redevelopment Agency Commissioner