I am Patricia Tumulty, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Library Association. I am speaking today directly on behalf of the 1700 members of our Association and the 1500 members of the New Jersey Library Trustee Association. But more importantly, I am also speaking on behalf of residents of New Jersey who visited our public libraries. Last year, there were almost 50 million visits to our public libraries (49,941,587). Over 170,000 people walk through our doors every day. That’s like filling Giants Stadium twice a day. Every one of those visits tells a story- preschool literacy programs for children, job assistance, finding a government form and yes, people looking to borrow a good book to read so they can stretch their limited dollars in this difficult economy.

Governor Christie’s Budget Proposal

The budget which you are reviewing today is very different from the first budget which Governor Christie presented to you two years ago. This is a budget which presents New Jersey in a positive fiscal position. It focuses on opportunity and growth for New Jersey residents.
In his budget address the Governor stated that this budget provides a modest increase of 2.1 billion dollars to slightly over 32 billion dollars for the upcoming fiscal year. The Governor stated that 1/3 of the budget or 8.8 billion dollars will be spent on education and a 6% increase for funding to the senior institutions of higher education. This budget, therefore, makes a significant commitment to educational services for our residents. This budget, however, does absolutely nothing to reverse the devastating state funding cuts for library programs which have been sustained in the past several years. Libraries, at their core, are community educational institutions and deserve financial support as such.
Many of you will recall Governor Christie’s first budget when he proposed a 74% cut in library funding. Thankfully, funding for our NJ Library Network program was restored and the final cut was only 43%. For the second year, the Governor is recommending only 3,676,000 million for our basic per capita aid program which amounts to 41 cents per person per year as the level of state support for public libraries. This is the program which keeps the lights on and the doors open at our public libraries. In FY08, this program was funded at $8.6 million or approximately a $1.00 per capita. That’s our goal- $1.00 per capita or about 2 cents a week for every resident of New Jersey.
Last year, we were very grateful that this committee tried to restore funding for the per capita aid program by recommending an additional 3.5 million in the FY12 state budget. Unfortunately, that amount was vetoed by the Governor in the final budget. This year, the need for this funding is greater than ever as local budgets become stretched.

Public Libraries are Community Anchors
State Per Capita Aid - Keeps the Lights on and the Doors Open

Libraries play a wide-variety of roles in a community today but fundamentally they serve as a community anchor. Let me just briefly focus on three extremely important roles which libraries play in their communities.

Community Anchors-Educational Role

Without a doubt, a library is most often characterized in its traditional role as an educational institution. Let me give you a few examples of our strong educational worth:
1) Preschool education. Every public library provides programs and materials for preschool children. Parents and caregivers bring kids to the library for their first experience with books and words. Educational studies show that the earlier children are exposed to books, the better their chances of educational attainment when they enter school.
2) Summer Reading programs. Educators again say that keeping a child reading during the summer is the best way to keep them on grade level for the next academic year. Summer reading programs reinforce reading skills learned during the school year and they make learning fun for kids. In New Jersey, our Association and the NJ State Library coordinate a statewide summer reading program which is offered in every public library in the state. Thousands of kids participate.
3) Homework assistance. When the school closes at 3:30 where do kids go for homework assistance? To our public libraries, of course. Many kids, particularly in urban areas, don’t have computers at home or have an adult who can help them with homework. Our public libraries fill that role.
4) Homeschoolers. Many residents of New Jersey choose to teach their children at home. The public library becomes their curriculum center providing a wealth of materials for these students.
5) Adult learners. Many adults are now taking self-directed classes or online courses. Public libraries provide online resources for a variety of tests such as GED testing, computer skills and civil service exams.
I could give you more and more examples of our educational roles in the community but my question to you is – Aren’t these programs worth more than 41 cents per year?

Community Anchors- Access to the Internet

As a public policy strategy, governments on all levels are now putting more and more information exclusively on the Internet. E-government is the future. Unfortunately, that strategy often leaves many people without access to essential information. In New Jersey, you can’t even get a tax form unless you have access to the Internet. In 73% of our communities, the public library is the only place of free Internet access in the community. Unfortunately, there is no additional state support to purchase computers or to pay for the telecommunication charges associated with providing Internet services. This must come from local support.
Last October, the role of a local public library as the center for Internet services for the community was clearly demonstrated during the devastating storms. Thousands were without power and came to their local public libraries like Denville to use Internet access to contact insurance companies, government agencies or just to update family and friends on their situation. At least, two of our public libraries, Passaic City and Secaucus were designated FEMA Centers for residents to apply online to receive benefits. Our public libraries demonstrated their importance in local community disaster planning.
I ask, isn’t that worth more than 41 cents a year?

Community Anchors- Economic Development

As New Jersey’s unemployment rate rose to over 9% during the last several years, more and more New Jersey residents realized they needed to update their workplace skills or decided to become entrepreneurs to provide economic opportunities for themselves and their families. The local public library has become that center for economic opportunity. Here New Jersey’s public libraries have received some tremendous assistance. The New Jersey State Library was awarded a grant under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the Gates Foundation to provide for economic development opportunities in public libraries. Funding of over 7 million from these two sources permitted the New Jersey State Library to purchase additional computers for many local libraries. In addition, the NJ State Library partnered with the NJ Community Colleges Workforce Consortium to provide training sessions in local libraries. Last year, approximately 7,000 individuals and 600 hundred librarians received training on business and computer skills pertinent to career and job training. In addition, over 94% of all public libraries reported they had access to job and career based resources and over 78% reported helping people fill out online job applications. Unfortunately, libraries can’t help if we don’t have the doors open.
As that old phrase goes “it is the economy, stupid” and our local public libraries are an essential part of providing job and career resources for thousands of New Jersey residents. These federal resources will be available only until the end of June 2013.
I ask again, isn’t that worth more than 41 cents per year?

One Dollar Solution

The New Jersey Library Association strongly believes that one dollar per capita or an additional 5 million in this budget would restore our state per capita aid program for local libraries.
But we dream big, what if this budget could provide an additional 5 million for those economically distressed communities which have suffered so severely during this economic recession. Communities like Newark, Trenton, Camden, Edison, and Paterson. These communities have closed branches, endured furloughs, and laid off staff. To repeat the theme of my budget testimony- we have to keep the lights on and the doors open at our local libraries. In the city of Trenton, there is only one library facility open- four have closed; the City of Newark has closed several branches and reduced hours in other facilities; Edison struggles to keep its branches open with reduced staff. Many communities throughout New Jersey could significantly benefit from a targeted program which would keep library facilities open particularly during after school hours and the summer.

What We Need Now

New Jersey’s public libraries are not just nice amenities for a community to have if they can afford them but rather are vital community anchors essential to educational, governmental, and economic development goals for our state. They are not silos which stand apart in a community but are integral in providing services and programs which meet core community needs. The current contribution of 41 cents per person doesn’t buy very much. Your contribution is 41 cents to a program which serves almost 50 million visitors per year. Warren Buffett would love that return on investment. We have endured the cuts, we need an increase now. The New Jersey Library Association believes that a dollar per person or 5 million in our basic state per capita aid program is a very small price. It would be about 2 cents a week per person.
In addition, if we could restore hours and facilities in our poorest economically distressed communities, we believe we could accomplish even more. So our total request is 10 million. This is a small amount when you are discussing educational programs in the billions. We can only hope you will agree and keep the lights on and our doors open for all at our public libraries.