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WNY public libraries, legislators fight back against proposed budget cuts

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Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
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New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library are calling on New York State to reverse course on proposed cuts totaling $25 million in funding for public libraries.

Speaking Friday at a press conference at the Kenmore Branch Library, Ryan and B&ECPL Director Mary Jean Jakubowski said the funding cuts proposed in the Executive Budget for 2020-21 would be especially damaging in a Census year.

“This year, the Census is aspiring to go online as much possible, but we know with the digital divide, that’s going to be a problem,” Ryan said. “Into the breach steps our library systems.”

A 2018 Census report found that internet penetration rates are as low as 36% in some parts of Buffalo. Analysis by The Buffalo News also found that the city has some of the slowest internet speeds in the country. Ryan said libraries are a critical counterweight to those trends and that they continue to evolve to stay relevant.

“It wasn’t too long ago we were having this conversation of, you know, ‘Is there a spot for libraries in our modern age with digital books and Kindle readers?’ But it turns out that library attendance is higher than it’s ever been.”

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Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
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Flyers at the Kenmore Branch Library advocate for spending public funds on public libraries and for the 2020 U.S. Census.

Still, the proposed state budget includes a $20 million cut to Library Construction Aid and $5 million cut to Library State Aid, or operating costs.

Jakubowski said if the budget were implemented as currently outlined, the effect to B&ECPL’s operating costs would be about $152,000.

“That’s the equivalent of the operations of some of our smaller libraries, so clearly there would be a significant impact,” she said. “We would look and find ways to absorb those impacts but I don’t think we should, and I don’t think our communities deserve to have the funding cut.”

As for the other larger pool of money at stake, Jakubowski said her system alone has about $120 million in critical construction projects to complete over the next five years.

Ryan, who serves as chair of the Assembly’s Libraries and Education Technology Committee, said he’s submitting a counter proposal for his house’s budget that would restore the cuts and include an additional $17 million for the state’s public libraries.

The final state budget is expected to be passed by April 1.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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