Letter: Correcting the Record on New Canaan Library


Proposed rebuilt New Canaan Library. Rendering courtesy of New Canaan Library

I am writing in response to a Letter to the Editor on Wednesday, June 17th about the New Canaan Library. The citizens of New Canaan should have accurate information and context about the wonderful services the library provides for this town.

First, it is important to note that over 85% of libraries in this country are run completely by their municipality and therefore are 100% funded by taxpayers. The not-for-profit model of the New Canaan Library is unique to libraries in this area. Each year the town of New Canaan gives the library a grant that covers approximately 70% of library operations. Through its Annual Fund, the library raises the other 30% of its budget to support its programs. On a dollar basis, this means that in 2019-2020 the town of New Canaan funded $ 2,320,250 of the library’s total $3,087,631 budget. The library’s budget has increased only 2.6% on average over the past five years.  None of these numbers include the 125 library volunteers and the 4,200 hours they have spent on behalf of the town of New Canaan without compensation.

In addition, because the library is a 501(c)(3) organization, it owns the building and land it sits on and all expenses related to that ownership are paid for solely through philanthropy. What this means is that taxpayers in New Canaan are getting 100% discount on building upkeep and their library services at a greater than 30% discount. We at the library are so grateful to the town for their annual grant to the operations of the library, to the many generous donors who contribute to the Annual Fund, and to the volunteers who contribute their time so that we can, in fact, have a library in our wonderful town.

Second, though the library is an independent organization, the Board, staff, and volunteers are keenly aware that they are performing a service for the people of New Canaan. We are fortunate to have an Executive Director and Library team who deliver innovative and exciting programs on a tight budget. The Board of Trustees is comprised of dedicated, smart, and responsible men and women who take their role seriously (including the First Selectman as an ex officio member). The annual budget is discussed with and approved by the Town (i.e. Board of Finance, Town Council, The Board of Selectmen) and the library has regular budget reviews with representatives from town and open communications with all the town bodies.

Third, metrics are important, but they must be accurate and looked at in context. All door data prior to 2014 was estimated, as digital door traffic counters hadn’t been installed. Now that we have access to precise information, we know that our numbers have increased or held steady since then. Further, these numbers should be examined in the context of state-wide data rather than compared to 25 years ago. Here, again, the New Canaan Library excels. Our visitor per capita number is the 4th highest in the state behind Darien at number 1, and the library’s circulation per capita is the 2nd highest in the state. Of course, the library is proud of its dynamic book collection, but libraries have become so much more than just books. Our library is a community center, a gathering place, a place for exciting programs, discourse, and life-long learning. We have the 2nd highest program participation in the state but these numbers do not include the children and adults who are turned away on a regular basis from programs because the library cannot accommodate demand in an out-of-date, building with not enough space—one of the reasons for the new New Canaan Library is to accommodate more of our residents in vital library programs.

Fourth, when looking at Darien Library for comparison it is again important to note the context of the data. As mentioned above, door traffic needs to be looked at in the framework of what is happening across the country. Also, Darien Library’s budget has increased the last few years because the town of Darien decided it should invest in library programming and services to benefit its citizens. This increase is not solely comprised of an increase in overhead. In fact, Darien is one of only two national Five Star Libraries in the state of Connecticut and it is wrong to look at it as an example of what can go wrong. Instead, the Darien Library should serve as an example of a library that has gotten it right. New Canaan residents also deserve a new, state-of-the-art library that can better accommodate residents in its programs and meet the needs of our community.

Friends, it is time for us to invest in the new New Canaan Library and give New Canaan the library it wants and deserves—a place for discourse, gathering, and lifelong learning for everyone. Fellow residents are contributing more than $25 million dollars toward making this come true, and with a contribution from the town of New Canaan of $10 million, taxpayers are getting a $35 million world class library. These contributions to the new New Canaan Library are important steps towards the revitalization of our downtown and an investment in the future of New Canaan.


Alicia Wyckoff
Co-Chair, Capital Campaign Committee
The new New Canaan Library

11 thoughts on “Letter: Correcting the Record on New Canaan Library

  1. For transparency, are the actual contributions $8 million or $25 million to date? When you write “fellow residents ARE contributing more than $25 million” is it more accurate to say “we hope to raise more than $25 million from residents, with $8 million in the bank out of a total of $16 million pledged?” This gets to a core point raised by Jennifer Holme and others that aim to be fiscally responsible: if the library is unable to raise $25 million+ from donors, how will taxpayers be protected from contributing any more than $10 million, and is $10 million the best use of taxpayer funds currently given the secular issues libraries face? If the answer is yes, what other expenditures should the town look to reduce to mitigate continuously increasing tax rates, or should we concede higher tax rates indefinitely even in a global pandemic with depressed home values? These are not “gotcha” questions. They are questions any fiscally responsible resident/town representative should be able to answer specifically and substantively, so I hope you and others that have commented on Jennifer’s letter will address them.

  2. Hi Alicia – I would really encourage you and the team from the Library to go for a referendum in November on this. Cost projections appear to have gone up $5m since January (actual construction costs rarely come in below estimates in my experience), and the town is being asked to take down its present Library that many have feelings for (this is all with the Covid financial backdrop). Lacking a referendum we will just have a long series of letters and lobbying of town officials, which in the end may be conclusive, but will leave a large question unanswered which is is this really what the town residents wanted to do (irrespective of the direction taken)?

  3. Both letters are saying the same thing in one regard – our library is more public than private – in many respects – and will become more public with the new proposal. Volunteers over the years, including this writer, underscore the public nature of the institution. Considering the information in and nature of both letters, the public has a right and an obligation to ask the pertinent questions, receive detailed answers, and be involved in the process.

  4. The 75 percent donation that the Library receives annually from the Town of New Canaan for its operating budget, as well as health care for employees, pensions for some, and building insurance suggests that the New Canaan Library is in fact a public entity with some private funding – not the opposite – a private entity with the majority of public donations. In addition, Darien did get it right – they kept their original library building intact, and reused and repurposed it for the taxpayers. Even through aggregate visits to Darien Library are the highest in the state, library attendance has fallen after the initial burst seen when the new library was built, and visits to libraries are down all over the country given new ways people have to access information. Lastly, the Friends of Our 1913 Library have 325 individuals who have signed a petition to preserve/reuse/repurpose the 1913 Building where it currently stands. 85 percent of our signees, or 275 people are New Canaan Residents. One hundred and fifty private donors should not be able to dictate the fate of a public building. As we’ve said publically, the Friends of Our 1913 Library, welcome a meeting with the Library Board to discuss ways to address the desires of taxpayers who want to see 1913 standing for another 100 years. They deserve it especially given that they, as taxpayers, foot most of the bill to keep the library operating as well as will be paying the debt service and interest on a 10 million bond to fund a proposed library.

  5. Thank you for this great letter Alicia. The new library looks amazing and I say let’s break ground tomorrow and start building it already.

  6. I’d like to see some statistics based on current and historical visits/use. What is the average and forecast cost per visit based on annual operating costs? What are the forecasts given the continued increase in Internet capabilities.

  7. As a town resident I am very concerned about construction and operating costs as they continue to climb higher.

    “Since building a new library in 2009, the town of Darien has experienced an 11% decline in library visitors, and the costs associated with the Darien library have increased 29% since 2009.”

    Will the Town of New Canaan be left to foot increasing operating costs above our present levels? With our uncertain economy due to the pandemic, let’s re-visit the whole project.

  8. Alicia, are you saying the numbers the Library provided to the State of Connecticut are inaccurate or incorrect? The numbers I referenced are sourced from the CT Public Library Statistics database which are provided by the Library.

    Let’s take a look at some of the numbers you reported to the State of Connecticut:

    Total Operating Expenditures:

    2019: $3.465 Million – 4.78% increase from the prior year
    2018: $3.307 Million – 4.80% increase from the prior year
    2017: $3.156 Million – 4.04% increase from the prior year
    2016: $3.033 Million – 6.03% increase from the prior year

    All of this averages to 4.91% and not 2.5% as you claim.

    In terms of visits, the high water mark for the New Canaan library was in 2010 with 511,680 visitors whereas now the 2019 reported visitor count is 213,971. And if you believe the reported visitor counts is not completely accurate, let’s use instead the number of registered borrowers as a metric. The New Canaan Library reported 16,108 registered borrowers in 2010 and only 15,560 in 2019, a 3.4% decrease in registered borrowers. This trend runs counter to the 2% growth of New Canaan’s overall population during that same time period.

    All of this goes to one point, we need to have a healthy and transparent dialog on the current library business model as the New Canaan taxpayer is funding the majority of the library’s costs and now the library is asking for additional 10+ million. Perhaps as you say, this model is unique and we should change it. The Town could own the library or the library should operate as other local non for profits do – they raise all the necessary funds to finance their operations and overhead.

  9. Thank you, Alicia, for your very thoughtful and detailed letter. It is sad that a small group of vocal people are sowing distrust regarding the new New Canaan Library. Extensive research, due diligence, careful regard to financing and countless volunteer hours have gone into the planning of the new library. Nothing has been done in a vacuum………to state otherwise is fake news.

    • Hi Sarah – the only way we are really going to know how the town feels on this issue is to take it to a vote. I expect we will have high turnout this November, so a coordinated referendum with November voting will give us about as good a view on where the town stands as anything else we could do. If my reading of the process is right, time allows for this so I am not sure why any party with strong views on this subject would object to such a process. This should provide lots of time for the Library to respond to the various questions that have been raised and hopefully overcome any objections. Lets let the residents decide this one.

  10. It is unfortunately true that prior to July 2013 there was not the level of rigor in the reporting of statistics to the state that there has been since that time.
    As already pointed out – there were no counters on the doors and the numbers reported were estimates and were noted as such in the reporting.
    Similarly, since 2013 the member database has been stringently cleaned annually , with expired memberships expunged annually ensuring accuracy in the counting of registered borrowers.
    Furthermore, your newfound interest in the Library’s has seemed to be focused on the Town’s budgeted contribution which has averaged 2.6% over the past 4 years as evident in the Town’s own budget documents should you wish to check.
    As you say, there is an alternative and that would be for the Town to take over the operation, land and buildings of the library, an interest which has heretofore not been indicated, but which is the norm across the nation. Certainly when people commit their significant time, talent and treasure to serving on the board and committees of the library, spending thousands of hours each year to give back to the community they love, only to be attacked in the press, it is no wonder that very few towns use this model.

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