Trenton Library Plans to Close All Its Branches

Trenton Library Plans to Close All Its Branches

A potential citywide budget deficit of as much as $28 million has led the Trenton (N.J.) Public Library to develop plans to close all four of its neighborhood branches. Library Director Kimberly Bray announced the library board’s decision, which followed an across-the-board 10% cut in funding to all city departments, in an e-mail to staff September 10.

Some 60 residents attended a September 23 city council meeting devoted to the closings—the third such meeting held over eight days—at which Bray described three options: maintain the current operations, which would require about $1 million more than the city has offered the library; reduce the branches’ hours, with an allocation similar to last year’s; or close the branches, with the mandated 10% budget cut. Bray said all three options would require staff layoffs, the Trenton Times reported September 24.

Bray, who came to the library in April, is its fifth director in five years. The September 24 Trentonian said she told council members that the board had weathered annual budget crises during that period by dipping into a $1.8-million reserve fund. “In 2003, they used $423,000, followed by another $230,000 the next year,” Bray said. The following years saw withdrawals from the fund of $475,000 in 2005, $250,000 in 2006, and $120,000 this year. She also noted that the library is three years behind in audits, which was acknowledged by TPL accountant Nathan Linowitz, who also said he was unaware of any type of fundraising activity being planned or taking place. Bray was careful to thank city budget-makers for funding the library at $3.5 million—a level that exceeds the state’s mandated library funding formula, which recently came under fire.

At all three meetings, residents and council members denounced the planned closings. Council President Paul M. Pintella worried that the effect of closing the libraries may be permanent, warning, “When you cut off those branches, they may not grow back,” the Times reported. Senior Library Assistant Donna J. Moore agreed, recalling that a North Trenton branch closed in 1981 and never reopened. She added that some children would have difficulty reaching the main library, the only one that would remain open under the plan.

Stressing that all city departments are affected by Trenton’s fiscal crisis, Bray told American Libraries, “No library wants to close its doors.” The library will soon submit its layoff plan to the state Department of Personnel; once it’s approved, the closures will be scheduled, which Bray expects will occur no sooner than December.

At this point, said Bray, the library would need approximately $500,000 to avoid the shutdowns, and even that amount would only forestall the full closures and allow partial operations. She said the library and its Friends group are seeking contributions from the private sector and foundations.

Despite the crisis, Bray said it’s been gratifying to see how much residents value the branches. “The community outcry has been incredible. Even the most ardent library supporters have been stunned,” she noted, adding that the library hopes “to tap into those feelings” in seeking funds.

Posted on September 24, 2008; modified on September 25, 2008. Discuss.