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