HARTFORD, CT - Senator Tony Hwang (R-28), Representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey (D-133) and Laura Devlin (R-134) raised awareness of an ever-increasing budgetary shortfall that these important community cornerstones and resources are facing. They are committed to work together to offer solutions to support our local libraries.
The lawmakers were joined for a press conference by Deborah Schander, CT’s State Librarian, Ellen Paul, CT Library Consortium and Fairfield librarians Scott Jarzombek, Fairfield Town Library and Stephanie Coakley, Pequot Library. Each member of the group brought their own stories on the challenges they face to balance providing their virtual and in person visitors with cutting edge works, materials, and programs while upholding a high standard for access and public safety.
As a budget line item that is under constant scrutiny, Connecticut public libraries now receive an average of only 1.15% of municipal budgets to provide needed services to the communities they serve. Further, libraries are facing the increased costs associated with obtaining digital resources that enable people to access materials regardless of their location or disability status.
According to the State Library, the cost for libraries to obtain an eBook license is 2x what it costs to purchase a hardcover copy of the same resource and these licenses often expire after a set period of time or number of uses. To get an audio version that can be accessed by those with vision or other reading impairments, the costs can be 4x greater still.
“Libraries are at a critical juncture. Two years into this pandemic, they are offering both traditional and innovative services to their communities, but not without figurative and literal costs. One particular pressure point is the cost of providing electronic materials, which are far higher than those associated with print books. With more people borrowing eBooks and audiobooks than ever, this is the time to talk about ways we can support our libraries’ collections and their bottom lines,” said CT State Librarian Deborah Schander.
“I appreciate Senator Hwang’s leadership on the crucial issue of the inflated costs of library eBooks. This issue affects every taxpayer in Connecticut who supports their local library through their hard-earned tax dollars. Libraries regularly pay four to five times what consumers pay for the same eBooks and then are forced to rebuy the same titles every year, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars over the life of a single eBook and making a robust eBook collection out of reach for many libraries. Publishers have been taking advantage of libraries and taxpayers for far too long, and I applaud Senator Hwang for bringing the public’s attention to this critical issue of access and equity for Connecticut residents,"said Ellen Paul, Executive Director of the Connecticut Library Consortium.
"During the pandemic, libraries pivoted to provide digital resources and content. Although libraries have begun to offer in-person services again, the demand for all digital and hybrid services has not subsided, creating an additional strain on our budgets and staffing," said Scott Jarzombek, Fairfield Town Library.
“As Pequot Library looks ahead and develops a plan for our library in a post-pandemic world, we are working towards providing even more programs and services both in-person and digitally. Located in an historic building, Pequot Library is a 21st-century library that simultaneously serves as the stewards of a Special Collections of rare books, manuscripts, and archives and offers a circulating collection of books, including eBooks. We are now hosting both onsite Special Collections exhibitions and online exhibitions, providing live-streamed author talks, expanding our video-recorded program content, and more. As a nonprofit association library, municipal support is essential to successfully carrying out our work to foster a lifelong pursuit of learning for all, especially during these times when there is a need for an expansion in library services and programming,” said Stephanie Coakley, Executive Director, Pequot Library Association.
“Libraries are pillars in our communities, connecting residents to one another, resources, and information,” Rep. McCarthy Vahey said. “Countless community members rely on these vital resources daily, which makes it critical to commit to securing sufficient funding for Connecticut libraries.”
Senator Hwang emphasized, “Our public and private libraries are gathering spaces, social centers for residents of all ages, educational outlets, community connectors as well as a vital method for people to access resources and information. I am deeply concerned over the mounting challenges that Connecticut’s libraries face to provide internet access, educational programs, physical library materials and digital resources. These are issues of social equity, access and accessibility. Libraries provide a way for seniors to leave their at-home isolation as well as a way for new families to connect with their child’s future classmates in town. No matter your age, social economic background and informational needs, I am here to say that I love our libraries.”
The legislature’s bipartisan Planning and Development Committee raised SB 131 and will have a legislative public hearing on February 25, 2022 on reducing e-book digital costs to better support Connecticut’s libraries and will schedule a public hearing in the upcoming weeks. It is important to note that both library leaders and legislators respect the delicate balance between copyright protection, municipal funding and unique challenges of public policy on public/private businesses, but look forward to a continuing conversation in search of solutions that will work for all stakeholders.
PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING NOTICE
February 25, 2022 at 11:00 A.M., the Planning and Development Committee will hold a virtual public hearing on S.B. No. 131 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING ELECTRONIC BOOK LICENSING.