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Montclair Public Library
The library’s automatic book scanner. The Montclair Public Library has asked for a $400,000 increase in funding from the township this year as part of its budget.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Public Library is hoping to add several new staff positions, give its existing staff raises, keep the Bellevue Avenue branch open for more hours, and buy a new sorting machine that will help get books back on the shelves faster.

The library has requested a $3.8 million budget from the township for the 2019 fiscal year, which includes a $400,000 increase over last year.

Those are some of the requests laid out in the library’s budget presentation, presented to the township council on Jan. 22.

The library’s total requested budget is $3,818,093. $2,600,327 is state-required by a third-of-a-mill funding, plus $1,217,766 in additional funding from the township.

“I think the important thing to highlight is that we often view ourselves as the center of the community,” said Library Director Peter Coyl in his introductory remarks. “And we are one of the few institutions in town that anyone can go to without paying admission, or even having a library card, you can still come into the library.”

New Jersey libraries are entitled to a minimum amount of funding: a third of a mill, or a tenth of a cent for every tax dollar. Beyond that, it is up to the municipality to decide how much funding a library gets beyond that amount.

Nationwide, only 21 percent of people have a library card. In Montclair, 81 percent of people have a library card, Coyl said. And the library is also a good investment for patrons: “For every dollar we spend, [the patrons] get back $2.75 in value,” Coyl said.

Library funding has steadily increased, but the library is still not back at the level of funding it received 10 years ago, Coyl said.

“That is a generous amount but it is still not enough to run the library,” Coyl said of the library’s third-of-a-mill share.

“But we, in addition to the funding that the township gives us, we also try to receive grants.”

Coyl noted that the Montclair Public Library has recently received grants from Investors Bank, Montclair Public Library Foundation and American Library Association. The library was one of 70 libraries nationwide to receive a grant for the Great Stories Club.

At the Bellevue Avenue branch, the library wants to have the branch open for 50 hours a week, rather than the current 30. This would enable the library to have evening hours and weekend hours. It would be benefit to everyone, Coyl said, including school children who attend school in the area.

The library also wants to add a designated branch manager and a children’s librarian at Bellevue, as well as some part-time staffers. The branch manager position would pay a total of $75,962 annually: $59,568 in salary, plus $32,568 in benefits. Another full-time staff position to be added would be a person in charge of communications and publicity. That position would have a salary of $53,000, plus $31,330 in benefits.

The existing staff also need raises. “As you know, every year people need raises, and we have to absorb that cost.” Coyl noted that New Jersey has just raised the minimum wage, and the raises need to reflect that. And health insurance costs have also gone up, at a cost of $450 per employee. Last year, library staffers received a three-percent raise.

In 2012, the library tagged all items with RFID chips so they can be checked out and checked in with special scanners at the cost of about $140,000.

But currently, staff members still have to sort books and materials by hand after they are scanned back in. This is a time-consuming job, Coyl said, and the staff is not able to spend as much time helping patrons.

The library is now seeking $170,000 to pay for upgrades to the radio frequency identification (RFID) technology used for the book scanning machine and the security gates. An RFID book sorter typically uses conveyor belts to drop books into specific bins, which are assigned to a specific location in the library: either another location in the same building, or an affiliated library branch.

With a book sorter, library staff would be able to spend 40 percent more time helping patrons rather than sorting books.

Besides the book sorter, the library wants to upgrade the security gates at the library doors, since those gates are not currently RFID compatible.

Councilman Bob Russo asked if the library employees are unionized. They are not, Coyl said.

The library has a total of 55 employees, 24 of whom work part-time.

Councilor Sean Spiller questioned why the library was asking for an additional $400,000 in its budget for the coming fiscal year, since the library has received that amount in additional funding over the last five years.

The library had not seen an increase in funding last year, Coyl said, and the library was trying to make up for that. In addition, Coyl said, the RFID upgrades need to be completed this year.