Library regains standing

State board OK’s full borrowing

By Rachel Lebeaux
Globe Correspondent / January 3, 2010

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Medway’s library exile is over.

Nearly three years after the town lost its networking privileges for cutbacks at the Medway Public Library, residents can once again borrow items from other libraries in the region.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners reinstated Medway’s accreditation last month, allowing it to rejoin the Minuteman Library Network, which covers 35 public libraries and seven college libraries in the area.

The decision was based on Medway’s efforts to improve its financial standing, and its spending on the library; the budget for this fiscal year increased its funding to $204,122, far above the state’s minimum requirement.

Patrons are ecstatic, said Margaret Perkins, the Medway library’s assistant director.

“They are already ordering a lot of materials, and interlibrary loans have picked up quite a bit,’’ she said.

Medway is not the only area library experiencing budgetary constraints. Communities across the region are applying to the state for waivers that would allow their libraries to retain certification for this year, with the list including Ashland, Bellingham, Belmont, Boylston, Franklin, Holliston, Marlborough, Natick, Norfolk, Northborough, Plainville, Shrewsbury, Waltham, and Wrentham.

“The good news about these libraries is that none received a cut beyond 10 percent, which means that they are not considered disproportionate cuts this year and therefore will not have to make a presentation at the January board meeting,’’ said Celeste Bruno, a spokeswoman for the state board.

Previously, any library with a cut greater than 5 percent was required to present a case for keeping its accreditation, but the board voted to increase the threshold to 10 percent due to the weak economy, Bruno said.

To maintain state accreditation, communities must approve library budgets that exceed the average appropriation of the previous three years by 2.5 percent.

When considering waivers, the Board of Library Commissioners typically com pares the cut in library spending with the reductions in the budgets of other municipal departments. “An extremely disproportionate cut will most likely not receive a waiver,’’ Bruno said.

In the fiscal year that ended in July, 24 of the 26 libraries that applied for waivers received them. The two that did not represented especially severe reductions: Hubbardston at 69 percent and Norton at 33 percent.

The state pulled the Medway Public Library’s accreditation early in 2007 after town officials severely slashed its funding compared with other departments.

In 2005, Medway appropriated $389,046 to the library, but that figure dropped to $307,226 the next year. The town received state aid and a waiver that year, but funding plunged to $107,342 for the 2007 fiscal year.

At the time, town officials had hoped to obtain an additional waiver to maintain residents’ library networking privileges, and were upset that residents were punished as officials sought to right the town’s financial ship.

After the certification was revoked, Medway’s library was no longer able to order items through the Minuteman network.

“Residents were obviously very upset, and it seemed increasingly so as time went on,’’ Perkins said.

The ruling affected more than Medway residents. Library patrons in other towns could not order materials from Medway via interlibrary loans. The exception was Franklin, which signed an intermunicipal agreement with Medway in July that called for sharing library services.

“It’s hard to tell people with children, ‘No, you can’t check out that stack of books,’ ’’ said Perkins, who is also the head of reference services at the Holliston Public Library.

At its lowest point, the Medway library, which had been open 55 hours per week prior to the budget cuts, dropped to a scant 20 hours per week, said Wendy Rowe, chairwoman of the town’s Board of Library Trustees.

Despite the boost in spending for the 2010 fiscal year, the Medway library’s budget remains far lower than it was before the crisis. But it is well above the state’s required amount of $139,490, based on the average appropriation of the past three years.

“Now that we’ve been so poorly funded for a number of years, it’s not as difficult to meet’’ the standard, Perkins said.

The library is now open the minimum 32 hours a week required for certification.

“Medway’s residents and their officials have really made an effort to provide the funding this library needs and will continue to need,’’ Bruno said. “It’s a testimony to how much they value the services that they had lost.’’

Still, the Medway library is still far short of funding and staffing levels of years past.

“Even though we have more money, it’s still a lot less than we should have,’’ Rowe said.

The library continues to rely on private donations to acquire books and other materials, Perkins said, noting, “We have not purchased any materials through the general fund for several years now.’’