By: Marsha Keefer
Faced with an ever-shrinking budget, Terri Gallagher, director of the Rochester Public Library, resorts to creative thinking to offset the losses in her attempt to keep the doors open.
Sometimes, she feels like a huckster peddling purses and jewelry, selling raffle tickets to Steelers’ games, conducting paranormal investigations of the Civil War era building, and hosting Victorian teas or champagne poetry nights with Robert Frost.
Though a firm believer that library programs should be free, Gallagher realizes that additional income must be generated to continue existing programs, buy books and computers, pay staff and maintain the building on Adams Street.
Since she took over as director seven years ago, Gallagher said the Rochester library has lost about half its government funding, now operating on a $60, 000 annual budget, because of cuts at the state level and an eroding local tax base.
“That’s huge,” she said. “That’s huge. Trying to make that up is so difficult.”
The situation, however, is not unique to the Rochester library.
Fifty-seven percent of libraries noted flat or decreased operating budgets in fiscal year 2011, up from 40 percent in fiscal year 2009, according to the American Library Association.
Half report insufficient staff to meet patrons’ job-seeking needs and 65 percent report having an insufficient number of computers to meet demand. A study by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as reported by the Daily Beast, said 274 public libraries closed between 2009 and 2010. “It’s gotten really close, “Gallagher said of Rochester’s situation, running on what she calls a “bare-bones strategy.”
Many libraries, Rochester included, have been forced to scale back resources, lay off staff, and operate on reduced hours, unfortunately at a time when services are needed most, she said.
In the last decade, ALA said library visits have more than doubled.