Depending on action taken by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MLBC), Wareham residents may soon be unable to borrow from the Jonathan Bourne Public Library. Library director Patrick W. Marshall said that the board of directors voted recently to deny Wareham residents materials borrowing privileges if and when the state decertifies the Wareham Free Library.
Mr. Marshall said that the state decertified Wareham in March but approved an appeal of its decision a month later. Wareham’s inability to meet requirements established by the library commissioners, due to drastic budget cutbacks, could result in Wareham being decertified again in December.
The Wareham Free Library was decertified by the state in 2009. Back then, Bourne chose not to immediately deny borrowing services to Wareham residents, Mr. Marshall said. Instead, the town chose to wait and see if the town would increase the library’s budget and if the state would grant a waiver. Both things happened, he said.
“We tend to wait to see how appeals work out; that’s why we say ‘if and when,’ ” he said.
The vote taken by the board of directors only denies Wareham residents the ability to borrow materials from the Bourne library, or do anything that requires a library card, Mr. Marshall said. He explained that people from Wareham will still be able to come in to the Bourne library and read books and newspapers, or use its computers.
“Basically, we’re denying borrowing services to Wareham residents,” he said.
In March, the MLBC decertified the Wareham Free Library. That made the library ineligible to participate in the SAILS program. The SAILS program, like CLAMS (Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing) which Bourne belongs to, allows Wareham library patrons to obtain a CLAMS card, which gives them borrowing privileges at libraries in both networks. It also made Wareham unable to apply for state grant money under the Fiscal Year 2014 Municipal Appropriation Requirement (MAR).
The town appealed the decertification, and in April, the library commissioners granted the appeal and rescinded their action from the previous month. That made Wareham eligible for the FY2014 State Aid to Public Libraries program.
The library commissioners also passed a motion stipulating that Wareham would not be granted a waiver to the FY2015 MAR “if the town’s appropriation to the library is not restored to the FY2013 level of $432,835.” When a proposed override failed to pass with voters, the library’s budget was set at $125,000 for the coming year, well below this year’s budget of $325,637.
Mr. Marshall noted that, in addition to the budget requirement, there are other minimum standards established by the commissioners that library network members must meet. Those standards, he said, are based primarily on town population, and both Bourne and Wareham fall within the same size category.
He said that to maintain state certification, the Jonathan Bourne Public Library has to be open a minimum of 50 hours per week. He noted that the Bourne library is open exactly 50 hours, including nights and Saturdays, while Wareham is only open 18 hours a week.
In addition, 15 percent of the library’s budget must be spent on materials, such as books, newspapers, and downloadable magazines. He said that Bourne spends on average 18 to 19 percent of its roughly $600,000 budget on such items. He declined to estimate how much Wareham spends, but he speculated with a budget of only $125,000 they could not meet the state’s criteria.
In their April ruling, the library commissioners said that Wareham will also have to meet the hours of operation and the material expenditure requirements. They said that the board will review Wareham’s FY2015 State Aid to Public Libraries application in November to determine compliance with state requisites and vote on certification at its December meeting.
Bourne has been a CLAMS member for the past 25 to 30 years, Mr. Marshall said. He said that CLAMS’ budget comes from membership fees, and Bourne pays roughly $30,000 a year to belong. Among the services that CLAMS libraries offers its patrons are: regular, large-print and paperback books, WiFi Internet access, public-use computers, inter-library loan, reference services, delivery service among member libraries, magazines, audio books, a variety of audio-visual materials, programs for adults, teens and children, and community meeting rooms. In addition, some CLAMS libraries house unique collections.
Mr. Marshall likened allowing Wareham residents borrowing privileges to one town being asked to plow another town’s streets for free. He said the decision was a tough one to make and the board did not make it lightly; however, “we can’t take on the burden of another community.”
“Our first priority is Bourne residents,” he said.