When I came to Cecil County to lead our public library system in 2001, the community was examining how best to lay a foundation for the success and well-being of our citizens, communities, and businesses in the 21st century. One of the strongest messages was that our economic success would be based in large part on the quality of our county’s education system. In the 21st century, businesses that offer good salaries and benefits would locate in counties where the workforce is educated and engaged in lifelong learning. Those well-educated employees would demand the best of their county’s educational institutions for themselves and their families. Although the recession set us back, it is not a reason to give up on our aspirations.
As we now emerge from recession, my hope is that we can reflect on the valuable insights of those discussions and, as part of our plan to facilitate strong economic and community advancement, protect funding for education.
One of the strengths of public libraries is how quickly they can adapt their educational services to any era to give our citizens and communities an edge. Literally tens of thousands of Cecil County citizens are using Cecil County Public Library for exactly that reason today. We have focused intently on job and career skills, teaching basic computer usage for the newly unemployed, and giving our small businesses a competitive advantage as they work to survive and grow. And we have reinforced our outreach to our community’s children – introducing them to the powerful library services that underwrite success in school, work and life. These are the kinds of services we mean when we say lifelong learning.
Cecil County Public Library now has 55,900 active users. Library usage continues to grow. I am very proud of how much value we provide to so many citizens with just 2.7% of the county budget.
Cecil County citizens care deeply about their public library. In 2010, more than 1,000 of our citizens wrote to the County Commissioners telling them why their public library system is a lifeline for themselves, their families, and their communities, and many are writing once again. Several Cecil County business owners have written the County Commissioners this year about how the library’s high quality business reference services were critical to their opening and growing small businesses in Cecil County. One new business now has 15 employees!
We take the economic challenges of the recession very seriously. Our library budget has been essentially flat for two years. During that time, we have eliminated about 5% of our positions—a percentage comparable to other education agencies, renegotiated contracts, raised fines and fees, and eliminated an entire service, “This Way to Books.” But we have preserved the quality of our library’s educational services, our book budget, and the hours of operation in every branch by working harder and smarter, as well as squeezing budget lines.
The proposed county budget would reduce public library funding by 4%. We really hope to avoid that cut. We ask that the County Commissioners restore half the reduction in library funding. If the Commissioners can take that step, we can develop a Fiscal Year 2012 budget that preserves our book budget at the FY 2011 level. I sincerely thank them for their efforts, and I pledge that the library will continue to make a difference, creating a better future for our county and its citizens.
Denise Davis is the director of the Cecil County Public Library system. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.