To the dismay of some loyal patrons, the Lincroft, Navesink and Bayshore branches of the Middletown Township Library system could be shuttered by an official vote next week.
A letter issued by Library Director Susan O'Neal was posted in the branches yesterday. It said, "Pending final approval of the Trustees of the Library, we regretfully announce that all branch libraries are scheduled to be closed to the public on Friday, January 25, 2013, at 5:00 pm. This action is necessary due to major budgetary constraints. Discussions with local community groups and schools will continue to pursue ideas and possibilities for some type of neighborhood library services in the future."
A patron working on an online job application at the Bayshore branch in Port Monmouth yesterday afternoon was startled to learn this news. "This is the only library I come to," said Tai'Rell Billingsley, who lives five minutes away in the neighborhood. "My sisters come here every day, to read books."
Middletown Township's main library is on New Monmouth Road -- a modern, vibrant, spacious facility with several wings and meeting rooms, stacks of books, lots of computers, special interest programs, rows of video games and movies, a teen center and a cozy fireplace area with plush couches and reading nooks.
The MTPL's three satellite locations are housed in much smaller, older buildings. They are used, but their combined circulation accounts for just 11% of the system's total circulation.
Closing these branches would save the MTPL "roughly $300,000 annually," said Library Board President Lawrence Nelsen, after factoring in things like the cost of salaries and benefits, publications and utilities. If the branches are closed, some workers would be transferred to the main library.
The township library system's funding is tied to assessed valuation of properties, and the downturn in the real estate market and rising of tax appeals makes for a gloomy forecast, Nelsen said.
The board's Financial Committee weighed reducing expenses and increasing fees, but could not identify significant savings in order to close a gap in the 2013 budget, Nelsen said.
"We have a very serious financial problem, and the closing of the branches really is the only way we are able to overcome that problem," he said. "As much as we don’t want to, from a financial standpoint we really don’t have any alternative," he said.
The library branches are appreciated as local landmarks, a place to be recognized by neighbors, to explore interests, make copies or to search for a job online.
"There isn't a single place to go to sit down and hang out, without having to buy something, unless you go to the parks" said Janice Melillo, who brought a toddler to storytime at Lincroft last week.
Her 12-year old daughter Riana Melillo is planning to present a "save the Lincroft Library" petition at the public meeting Jan. 16. "Now we have to go to the main library, which is 20 minutes away from were we are now," she said. "In the summertime, when we don’t have the school library to go to for our summer reading, we're not going to go all the way there."
The board president welcomes any suggestions. "If anyone can come up with a couple of hundred thousand dollars on an annual basis, we'd be happy to hear about it. We cannot support those three branches in a continual basis. The library, like most government agencies these days, is in a financial fix, quite honestly."
The MTPL cannot sell the library structures or land for money, as it does not own the property. The Lincroft Library is owned by the Board of Education, and has been on loan since the 1900s. The township owns the Bayshore Branch library. And the Navesink Branch Library is owned by a foundation, which the MTPL pays $1 a year for its use.