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No money? No library certification in Hull.

Posted February 21, 2010 12:53 PM
By Johanna Seltz, Globe Correspondent  |  February 14, 2010

After Hull received the dubious distinction this month of having the only library decertified by the state this fiscal year, officials are scrambling to figure out what it means to local library users.

“The most direct impact will be when people try to check out a book from another [town’s] library,’’ said Kelly Eileen Beazley, chairwoman of the Hull Library Trustees. “Most of them have indicated they would deny’’ borrowing privileges.

The only exception is Quincy’s Thomas Crane Public Library, she said, and possibly the Hingham Public Library, whose trustees will consider the issue at their March 17 meeting.

Hull residents are frequent users of Hingham’s library: The 33,468 items they borrowed last year account for almost a third of what the Hingham library lent to nonresidents last year, according to Hingham’s library director, Dennis Corcoran.

Hull Public Library card holders also may lose their ability to use the inter-library loan service, which lets people order items from among 28 South Shore libraries in the Old Colony Library Network and have them delivered to Hull. Beazley said the organization is meeting next week and will decide Hull’s fate.

Another effect of the decertification is that Hull will lose all state aid to the library - about $8,000 this year, according to library director Daniel Johnson.

He said that for towns to receive library aid from the state, they must show a consistent history of providing municipal money to their libraries; Hull failed that requirement.

After the town narrowly rejected a tax override last spring, all town services were cut. Hull’s library budget went from $275,000 in the fiscal year that ended last June to $100,000 this fiscal year. As a result, the library reduced its hours from 45 to 32 a week, staying open five days instead of six.

Volunteers managed to avoid further reductions by raising about $80,000 for the library.

For the coming fiscal year, the town manager’s proposed budget includes a significant boost in library funding, to $220,000.

But town officials were unable to persuade the state Board of Library Commissioners to give the Hull library a waiver to retain its certification. Hull was among 97 libraries that applied for a waiver this year, and the only one that was rejected.

“Hull library suffered a 58 percent disproportionate budget cut as compared to other municipal departments, which were cut by 6 percent,’’ the commissioners said. “The actual cut to Hull Public Library was close to 64 percent.

“In these difficult economic times, libraries, like every municipal department, are subject to budget reductions. As long as the budget cuts are in line with other municipal department cuts, libraries can maintain state aid certification. It’s when a library’s budget is drastically cut beyond the reductions received by other municipal departments that certification is in jeopardy.’’

Also in jeopardy is the $2.8 million state grant that Hull was promised to build a new library.

“We can’t receive the grant if we’re decertified,’’ Johnson said. “But our plan to expand is on hold; our first concern now is to keep the present library open.’’

The town bought land at the corner of N Street and Nantasket Avenue, where it planned to build a new $6.2 million library.

The library has been at its current location at the far end of town since 1913 - in a 120-year-old structure originally built as a summer home for John Boyle O’Reilly, an Irish-American poet and editor of the Catholic weekly newspaper The Pilot.

“It’s very lovely and charming, but has its deficiencies as well,’’ Johnson said. “Like any old building, it does require a good deal of maintenance.’’

Hull plans to appeal the state’s decertification decision, although officials concede their chances of success are slim this year. Next year is another matter, though.

“A very bright spot of our news is that the Hull Library Foundation and Friends did an amazing fund-raising campaign in response to the cut we received, and because of that we were able to keep the library open 32 hours a week and purchase materials at the right level,’’ Beazley said.

“So we meet all the other [state] standards [for certification] except for the municipal appropriation. That should make recertification much easier - if we get through Town Meeting with the amount the town manager has recommended,’’ she said.

Director Johnson stressed that the library remains open and will continue to circulate its approximately 30,000 books, DVDs, and audio items.

“We urge all our users - we have around 5,000 borrowers - to come to the Hull library,’’ Johnson said. “And we suggest they call other libraries first, before they go [to them].’’ 

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