By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – The importance of constituents sharing their ideas with legislators was the recurring message delivered Feb. 13 by library advocates and elected officials at the Southborough Library Legislative Breakfast.
Southborough Library Director Ryan Donovan introduced several speakers including Maureen Ambrosino, president of the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) and director of the Westborough Public Library.
“The MLA organizes breakfasts like this all around the state every year to bring library advocates together and communicate the message of how important our libraries are to our local legislators,” she explained.
The Southborough Library hosted one of seven legislative breakfasts within the central Massachusetts region.
Mary Ann Cluggish of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners spoke about its funding requests for the fiscal year 2016.
“Our top priority again this year is saving public libraries,” she said. “Library usage in Massachusetts has increased over 40 percent in the last 10 years. In the meantime, funding for state aid for public libraries is 11 percent below its high in 2009.”
State aid helps libraries fill the gaps between the operating budget and real spending needs, Cluggish noted.
“For state aid to public libraries we are looking for an increase of $4.5 million – or better to think of it as money that goes directly to your local library,” she said.
Their other priority is to improve libraries’ technology.
“Current funding there is 38 percent below where it was in 2001,” she said. “For automated network, technology and resource sharing we’re looking for an increase of $3.3 million.”
Cluggish put the requested increase amounts into a relatable perspective.
“The total state library budget is only .06 percent of the total state budget,” she said. “More importantly, technology is what helps libraries do more with less.”
While expressing gratitude for the legislators’ accomplishments on behalf of libraries, Cluggish emphasized the efforts of state Rep. Kate Hogan, D-Stow, describing her as “the most important person in this room.”
Hogan explained why she feels honored to serve as chair of the Library Legislative Caucus.
“Public libraries, to me, are the very bedrock of democracy,” she said. “They’re so very vital to our state in that anyone in our towns can come in and avail themselves of the books, the ideas and the people on those shelves with just a library card.”
She encouraged residents to communicate concerns with legislators as they prepare for the budget session.
“I look forward to fighting for library funds in the coming months,” she said. “Don’t underestimate what a phone call, a personal email or contact with your state representative or senator will do as we look to see what we can bring back to our public libraries.”
State Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, noted that each town she serves has a vibrant library.
“Libraries are in many ways the heart of our communities,” she said. “Libraries statewide have stood up despite some budget concerns and lack of resources, and filled the gap with enthusiasm, passion and creativity.”
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, expressed optimism for libraries’ future funding.
“You had a three-year increase in almost every category of funding for libraries, so we really are moving in the right direction,” he said.
Eldridge and other speakers invited constituents to interact with legislators at the Legislative Library Day scheduled for Wednesday, April 1, at the State House. For information, visit masslib.org.
Other speakers included Judy Budz, Southborough Library Board of Trustees; Beth Melo, president of the Friends of the Southborough Library; Deb Hoadley, interim training and advisory services director at Massachusetts Library System; and Jennifer Woodward, director of Whitinsville Social Library, representing C/W MARS Executive Committee.