Nioga Library System personnel have gone above and beyond to provide essential services in the face of a global pandemic that continues to rock our way of life.
That’s the message conveyed Monday by four Genesee County library directors and the executive director of the 21-member Nioga Library System, who appeared before the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee to seek the same level of funding in 2022 as in this year and to articulate how they have responded to the challenges to meet the needs of their clientele.
The committee received a letter from Kimberly Gibson, library manager at Haxton Memorial Library in Oakfield, asking the legislature to sustain the current 2021 level of $41,680 to support the purchase of library materials for county residents.
County funding covers about 13 percent of Genesee’s six public libraries budget for materials and technology, such as computers, books, music, movies and magazines – including downloadable information, Gibson wrote.
“As we work to maintain our levels of service to our patrons during these difficult times, we face rising costs across the board and, for some of our libraries, we are working with a budget that was drastically cut from the prior year,” the letter continued.
During the meeting, Gibson reported that her library’s budget was slashed by 30 percent and the Byron-Bergen Public Library’s budget was cut by 20 percent.
Nioga Executive Director Tom Bindeman said the network, as a whole, has suffered budget cuts over the past several years.
They were joined at the meeting by Robert Conrad of Richmond Memorial Library in Batavia, Josselyn Borowiec of Hollwedel Memorial Library in Pavilion and Diana Reding of Corfu Public Library. The Woodward Memorial Library in Le Roy is the county’s sixth public library (and all are part of the Nioga system).
All of the state’s libraries closed around March 17, 2020, because of COVID-19 and many were closed up to 16 weeks.
Conrad said the six county libraries were able to coordinate their reopenings for limited service around June 1 and it wasn’t until June of this year when they were able to drop most of the other restrictions.
During that “down time,” librarians followed all of the Center for Disease Control guidelines, Gibson said, including social distancing, mask wearing, temperature checks of employees, frequent cleaning, purchase of Personal Protective Equipment, putting up of plexiglass and computer keyboard protection.
“We did whatever we had to do to get to the place where we could reopen,” she said. “Keeping day-to-day safety last year and into this year has been our priority.”
Contacted yesterday, Conrad said that Richmond Memorial Library staff was able to open for browsing and checkout, “but our restrictions included no general seating and, consequently (and ironically), no reading as well as no in-person programs and only essential computer use.”
Libraries conducted programs, such as the Richmond Reads author visit, children’s story times and movie streaming via Wi-Fi, Conrad added.
Broadband connection to the Internet is critical to libraries’ operational success – a point brought up by Bindeman at the committee meeting.
Noting that 40 percent of Genesee County does not have Internet access, he urged lawmakers to do what they can to provide access to its residents. County Manager Matt Landers said they are aware of the gaps in coverage and have a plan to address the situation as money allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act can be used for broadband.
Bindeman also mentioned that many people, young and old, don’t know how to use a computer or smart phone, and he hoped to institute a plan where libraries and municipalities could provide more training in that area.
Libraries have been up and running for several weeks now and are offering their complete range of services.
Gibson said the computers continue to be “social distanced” and face coverings are required for those who have not been vaccinated.
“We’re grateful to learn that when we reopened how much we were actually missed,” Gibson offered, adding that a silver lining was that the Oakfield library was able to build its social media presence during the shutdown.
At Richmond, masks are required as long as the county's rate of transmission is at substantial or higher, and in the Children's Room until a vaccine has been made widely available for school-aged population.
Conrad said that he believes the 2 ½ months or so that all of the libraries were closed in 2020 represent the first time in the state’s history that its people were not served by libraries of any kind.
The Byron-Bergen Public Library and Haxton Memorial Library are looking to forge agreements with the B-B Central School District and Oakfield-Alabama Central School District, respectively, over the next couple years to be able to receive funding from property taxes as voted on by the public.
Hollwedel Memorial Library in Pavilion became a school district-supported facility last year, joining Richmond Memorial, Woodward Memorial and Corfu Public Library.